Transgender students lobby against proposed ‘bathroom bill’ and block men's room in Capitol | St. Louis Public Radio

Transgender students lobby against proposed ‘bathroom bill’ and block men's room in Capitol

Mar 15, 2017

A small group of transgender students, along with their supporters, gathered at the Missouri Capitol on Wednesday to lobby against the so-called “bathroom bill” that’s currently awaiting a vote from a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 98 would require K-12 public school students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex at birth. It would also require school districts to provide alternate facilities for students who want to use ones that correspond to the gender they identify with.

The bill received a public hearing in late February from the Senate Education committee. The chair of the committee, Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, said through a spokesperson that he has not scheduled a vote and declined to say when that might happen.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, have said local school districts should be able to work out their own solutions.

The group lobbying against the bill had about a dozen students, a few parents and some other supporters.

A group of transgender students protest against Senate Bill 98 on Wednesday in front of a men's room on the third floor of the Missouri Capitol.
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

“We’ve already seen that young people are marginalized in schools because of gender identity, and often it leads them to being pushed out of school and too often it leads them to being pushed into prison,” said Morgan Keenan, the director of the Missouri GSA Network, which stands for both “Gay-Straight Alliance” and “Gender Sexuality Alliance.”

Keenan also compared SB 98’s provision to provide alternate restroom facilities for transgender students as “separate but equal.”

“We still have the water fountains left over from the last time we did that,” he said.

Small groups visited several lawmakers’ offices around the Capitol building, then came back together in the early afternoon in front of a men’s restroom near the entrance to the Missouri Senate floor. At that point they unfurled a banner that read “Flush fear” and blocked the restroom for roughly 30 minutes, chanting things like:

"When trans lives are under attack; what do we do? Stand up Fight back," "Trans Lives Matter," "LGBTQIA; we will never go away" and "No to 98."

The Capitol Police were called, but the students refused to move. In the end, no one was arrested.

Ramon Flores, an 18-year-old student at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, in St. Louis, was among those protesting.  

A small group of transgender students meets with Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, sponsor of Senate Bill 98 on March 15.
Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

“I’m passable, is what they call them, for trans people to look like a woman,” Flores said. “So you’re basically going to tell me to go to a men’s restroom where I can get beaten and harassed and basically assaulted for any reason … it’s just not validating.”

The group eventually went upstairs and dropped in on SB 98’s sponsor, Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. Emery and the students talked for several minutes, with neither side convincing the other. The conversation got heated at times, to the point that a scuffle nearly broke out, prompting Emery’s staff to call Capitol police, but both sides calmed down and the group eventually left.

Missouri’s K-12 restroom bill is a version of broader transgender measures moving through various state legislatures. North Carolina passed the nation’s first (and so far only) law restricting restroom use in all public and government facilities to a person’s gender at birth. Texas lawmakers are considering a bill similar to North Carolina’s — with full knowledge of the potential financial fallout in the Tar Heel state.

Krissy Lane contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport