Bills targeting transgender bathroom access are floundering

Staff and wire reports

Bills to curtail transgender people’s access to public restrooms are pending in about a dozen states, but even in conservative bastions such as Texas and Arkansas they may be doomed by high-powered opposition.

The bills have taken on a new significance this week following the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to revoke an Obama-era federal directive instructing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender. Many conservative leaders hailed the assertions by top Trump appointees that the issue was best handled at the state and local level.

Local schools: York County school districts such as York Suburban aren’t very concerned about the move by the Trump administration because they say they will continue to do what they’ve always done: listen to students.

York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle said the district has an open conversation with all transgender students to determine what the best course of action is for each individual.

“If a particular student is uncomfortable with a bathroom, we will find a bathroom they can be comfortable in,” Merkle said.

She said York Suburban has several transgender students, all of whom have have worked with her and other administrators to determine the safest course of action for their time with the district, including which bathrooms and locker rooms they use.

If the district can accommodate a student without breaking a law or disrupting other students, they’ll do it, Merkle said.

“We have a number of transgender students, and we have addressed their bathroom needs individually, and quite frankly they run the gamut,” Merkle said.

State group: The Pennsylvania Youth Congress issued a news release Thursday condemning the actions in rescinding transgender student guidance.

“As a direct attack against transgender students, the withdrawal of this urgently needed guidance is both horrifying and outrageous to people of conscience,” said Pennsylvania Youth Congress Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman in the release. “This guidance was a specific commitment from our federal government that they would ensure transgender students receive full support and integration into our schools. The Departments of Education and Justice have rejected basic dignity and respect.”

According to the release, as of January, the Pennsylvania Youth Congress found only 6 percent of public schools in the Commonwealth have adopted policies to protect transgender students. Additionally, only 4 percent of schools prohibit the harassment of transgender students.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been working with transgender student rights since 2011, according to the release. It has launched an online project called Dignity for All, which is an online resource for transgender student policies.

Bills: Nationally, state bills that would limit transgender bathroom access are floundering even though nearly all have surfaced in Republican-controlled legislatures that share common ground politically with Trump. In none of the states with pending bills does passage seem assured; there’s been vigorous opposition from business groups and a notable lack of support from several GOP governors.

The chief reason, according to transgender-rights leaders, is the backlash that hit North Carolina after its legislature approved a bill in March 2016 requiring transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. Several major sports organizations shifted events away from North Carolina, and businesses such as PayPal decided not to expand in the state. In November, Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and defended the bill, became the only incumbent governor to lose in the general election.

“We don’t need that in Arkansas,” said that state’s GOP governor, Asa Hutchinson, earlier this month. “If there’s a North Carolina-type bill, then I want the Legislature not to pass it.”

North Carolina’s experience also has been evoked in Texas, where a “bathroom bill” known as Senate Bill 6 is being championed by GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who founded the Legislature’s tea party caucus and oversees the state Senate. Business groups and LGBT-rights supporters have warned that passage of the North Carolina-style bill could cost Texas many millions of dollars, as well as the opportunity to host future pro sports championships.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, assessed the bill’s chances of enactment as “effectively zero.” The measure might not even clear the Senate, he said, and would be “dead on arrival” if it reached the House of Representatives.

“The centrist conservative Republicans in the House, led by Speaker Joe Straus, view SB 6 as an unwanted distraction,” Jones said.

Others: In Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming, bills targeting transgender people already have died this year for lack of high-level support. The South Dakota bill, opposed by GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard, would have required public school students to use the locker rooms and shower rooms matching their gender at birth.

In several other states, such as Kansas and Kentucky, bathroom bills remain alive but are gaining little traction. Kentucky’s GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, though a staunch social conservative, has dismissed the proposal as unnecessary government intrusion.

“Is there anyone you know in Kentucky who has trouble going to the bathroom?” he asked.

In Tennessee, two lawmakers promoting a bathroom bill abruptly ended a news conference last week when it was interrupted by protesters, one wearing a T-shirt reading, “You can pee next to me.”

Major Tennessee businesses have joined forces to oppose the bill. And on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said the bill was no longer needed because of the Trump administration’s decision to revoke the directive on transgender students’ rights.

There’s a bathroom bill pending in Missouri, where an identical proposal didn’t even receive a hearing last year. Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled Legislature also rejected a bathroom bill last session; its sponsor promises to bring it back this year even though GOP leaders have not made it a priority.

Other states with pending bathroom bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, include Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and Washington.