As the pandemic continues, Republicans across the country are eager to keep distracting the public from the party’s failures over the past year and a half. As Daily Kos has covered, we know state-level Republicans have pushed anti-trans legislation that rests on hysteria and misinformation, ranging from banning trans girls from participating on girls’ sports teams to making it a felony for physicians to prescribe gender-affirming health care to transgender youth. While some measures have fizzled out far before reaching a governor’s desk, a growing number of these bills have actually been signed into law. We have a fresh example of a different kind of anti-trans bill that was just signed into law in Tennessee—this time, a bathroom bill.
On Friday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed an anti-trans bathroom bill that targets students and faculty into law. House Bill 1233, called the Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act, forces public schools to offer “reasonable accommodations” for students and staff who don’t use the restroom that matches their sex assigned at birth. The bill notes that this “reasonable accommodation” cannot include allowing people to use bathrooms designated for people of the opposite sex assigned at birth. What does this mean in practice? Students and faculty won’t be allowed to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
This law defines a person’s sex as the “immutable biological sex as determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.” This language means that for trans folks who do update the sex on the birth certificate or ID, for example, that official change isn’t enough—it goes back to what someone was assigned by a physician at birth, not their actual gender identity.
So, what bathrooms would trans students be allowed to use? According to the bill text, “single-occupancy” restrooms would be fine, as would be a bathroom in the school nurse’s office or the faculty bathroom. If you’re wondering why that’s such a big deal, there are a few reasons. One, those options are far more limited, which could create inconvenience or anxiety for the student. There’s also the big concern that using these bathrooms would essentially “out” the student to their peers. There’s also the reality that access issues could come into play when bathroom options are so limited—for example if the single occupancy option isn’t designed for safe use by a student in a wheelchair.
But that’s not all. The bill would actually students to sue their school if the school allowed trans youth to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity. Meaning, for example, if a student noticed one of their trans peers using the locker room or bathroom that matched their gender identity—a trans girl in the girls’ locker room, for instance—that student could sue the school for “harm suffered.”
Even in addition to the immense horror and stress this situation puts on trans youth, it also opens up a world of anxiety for students who may not be trans, but do not present as their peers do—for example, a cisgender girl who wears “masculine” clothes or a cisgender boy who wears makeup or “feminine” accessories. The bill offers a lot of room for people to start monitoring and reporting their peers in a way that seems ripe for bullying, harassment, and exclusion.
“By advancing hateful legislation like HB 1233 (SB 1367), Tennessee Gov. Lee and state legislators are using their power to harm and further stigmatize trans youth in Tennessee,” Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President, said in a statement. “The state of Tennessee is quickly becoming a national leader for anti-LGBTQ legislation, as lawmakers would rather discriminate against LGBTQ youth than focus on real problems facing Tennesseans.”
Tennessee state Rep. Jason Zachary, a Republican, originally introduced the bill. He argued the legislation offers a “path forward” for how schools can handle the issue, and that he became inspired to introduce the bill because a school told him they had a problem with “boys using the girls’ restroom.” The bill ultimately passed in the state senate with a 23-7 vote and in the House with a final vote of 70-22. The bill is expected to become law as of July 1, 2021.
Is Lee signing this legislation into law ultimately surprising? Sadly, not really, given that he signed an anti-trans sports bill into law just a few months ago.
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