News Archives

Bathroom Bills

February 24, 2017

During assembly on Friday, February 24, sophomore Harley King and senior Sophie Hurwitz spoke about pending state legislation and recent federal action impacting transgender people's freedom to use public bathrooms. Their presentation was part of the Current Events Club's ongoing efforts to objectively highlight major issues in the news. Harley and Sophie's prepared remarks follow:

Last month, new “Bathroom Bills” were introduced in 12 states, including Missouri. The Missouri bill is very similar to the North Carolina bathroom bill, which you might remember from the news last year.

That bill required people to use the public bathrooms that corresponded to their binary sex as assigned at birth, rather than their lived gender identity. The Missouri bill, SB98, would do the same, but would only affect public schools.

The North Carolina bathroom bill generated massive pushback. Activists there argued that the bill would be essentially unenforceable, pointing out that it would be difficult to check someone’s biological sex every time they enter a restroom. They also said that for trans people, using a bathroom that doesn’t correspond to their identity feels invalidating, like they’re being told that who they are isn’t real.

The pushback that resulted from the North Carolina bill led companies to withdraw from contracts in the state, which created economic losses of about $600 million, including the relocation of a NBA All-Star game away from North Carolina. This provides some context for the kind of economic effect the Missouri Bathroom Bill could have.

The Missouri bill differs from the North Carolina one, because it only affects public schools. That’s still a big deal, though. Supporters of the bill argue that transgender people using the bathroom of their preference may make cisgender students uncomfortable, or even put them in danger. They say that without this law, a cisgender man could pretend to be a transgender woman in order to enter the women’s restroom, which could increase risks of sexual assault in schools.

The bill’s opponents, however, say that forcing trans students to use the bathrooms of their biological sex endangers them, too.

As a survey shows, 41% of transgender citizens have attempted suicide, as opposed to only 4.6% of the general population. This already disproportionate statistic jumps up to 63-78% when the subject has reported facing any level of discrimination while at school, which bills such as this could exacerbate.

Senate Bill 98 was brought into an Education Committee hearing in the Missouri Senate last Tuesday. Activists arrived to speak on both sides: 3 people speaking in support of the bill, and dozens against it, including two 11-year-old trans girls.  No vote was taken. That doesn’t, however, mean the political fight over who gets to pee where is over, though, because the day after that hearing, some sudden changes were made in how trans students are viewed on the federal level.

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration would no longer view transgender students as protected under Title 9 of the 1972 Education Act, overturning the policy that the Obama Administration announced in May 2016.

That means that now, states and local education boards will each individually decide their policies towards trans students, which makes the fate of the Missouri Bathroom Bill even more important. It also means that, although the Supreme Court was poised to hear the case of transgender student Gavin Grimm from Virginia and make a federal-level decision on policy towards bathroom use, they may now decide not to hear the case. That means state and local school board rulings would decide the fate of trans kids.

Since the Supreme Court hearing is upcoming, and several other states are considering “Bathroom Bills” if you feel strongly about these issues--regardless of which side those feelings may be on-- please contact your representatives. And if you, like most people, are not 100% sure how to do that...

Diversity ETC will be running an Advocacy 101 Seminar to teach people how to contact their representatives on Sunday, March 5 at 3:00. We will be bringing in a speaker from the anti-poverty nonprofit Results, who, along with Burroughs students, will be teaching you how to best let your voice as a constituent be heard.