During the 2016 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers are likely to debate a bill that would bar transgender students from public school restrooms and other facilities designed for the gender with which they identify. If passed and implemented, the measure could potentially violate federal law under Title IX.
The issue caught the spotlight this year after students in Hillsboro staged a walkout when a transgender student named Lila Perry used the girls’ locker room and bathrooms. The ensuing debate led some schools to revisit their policies, said Brent Ghan, the chief of staff for the Missouri School Boards’ Association.
“The law remains very unsettled on this issue,” Ghan wrote in an e-mail. “It is up to local boards of education to adopt the policy that best fits the needs of their district and community.”
Under the proposed measure, the students would be required to use locker rooms and bathrooms for their biological sex, or they could use alternative accommodations like unisex or faculty restrooms. Use of an alternative restroom, however, would require the written consent of the student’s legal guardian.
“You know there was a time not too many years ago, when, if a young man claimed he thought he was a young lady, or vice versa if a young lady thought he was a young man, we would get them counseling,” said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Emery said he proposed the measure because concerned parents had contacted him. He rejects the idea that the policy is discriminatory, comparing it to height requirements on roller coasters and age requirements in kindergartens.
“If you had a daughter, you might not feel that she was completely safe if young men were allowed into her shower room, and vice versa,” Emery said. “I don’t think you can protect one in preference over another.”
Morgan Keenan, who directs Missouri’s network of Gay-Straight Alliances for students, said the proposal creates a system where transgender men and women are unsafe.
“It says that we don’t value these women, and that we don’t think they’re worth having around, and we think that we can legislate and control where they go to the bathroom,” Keenan said.
Keenan said he will help organize opposition against this bill and other anti-LGBT measures in the statehouse this spring.
“There are trans students going to locker rooms and bathrooms across the state, and they’ve been doing it for a long time and there hasn’t been any safety concerns. What we’re afraid of is the things we don’t know,” Keenan said.
According to an opinion released by the U.S. Department of Justice, transgender students have a right to use restrooms and locker rooms that are associated with their gender identity. However, the Missouri School Boards’ Association released two proposed policy guides to local boards of education — one permits transgender students to use group restrooms as they wish, and another that forbids it.
“Realistically, the district is more likely to be investigated by the OCR and the DOJ for failing to accommodate a transgender student than to be successfully sued for providing the accommodation,” the policies read.
“Further, research shows that transgender students are in particular need of support since they are less likely to graduate, more likely to be bullied, and have high rates of depression and suicide.”
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