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Politics & Government

Transgender Bathroom Bill Draws Huge Crowd at State Capitol

Rafael Ben-Ari, Fotolia

Which bathrooms should transgender students use? That question drew scores of people to Wisconsin's State Capitol on Thursday.

They testified on a bill that would forbid transgender students from using the bathroom for the gender with which they identify. The same would hold for locker rooms.

The bill would require school boards to designate gender specific restrooms and locker rooms. And, schools would have to fashion single-occupancy rooms for transgender students. Child therapist Lee Webster supports bill. He says without it, schools could put teenagers in awkward situations.

“To add the issue of having someone who is biologically male and claims to identify with females or vice versa in a locker room or bathroom is both inappropriate and potentially traumatic to all parties. What would prevent a number of teen boys making a dare to one another that they identify with the opposite gender just to gain a locker room?” Webster asks.

The bill comes from Republican Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum. He says Wisconsin needs a plan to protect students and itself. Kremer cites a recent case, in which the Obama administration sued an Illinois school district. It refused to allow a biological boy from using girls’ facilities. The U.S. Justice Department claims the policy violates Title IX, a 1972 law designed to protect students from gender discrimination.

“I hope that this policy, one that has been tested in federal courts, becomes a means that not only protects our school districts and taxpayers from frivolous federal agency lawsuits, but will continue to foster an expectation of dignity, privacy and a safe learning environment for all of our students,” Kremer says.

“By singling out people who are transgender, have you considered that you might add to the harassment they face?” That’s Chris VanderHeyden, superintendent of the Menasha Public Schools and an opponent of the bill. He says the state should not force certain young people to use a new brand of bathroom.

“Under our current policy and with the addition of several unisex restrooms, many students who prefer the privacy make use of them. By assigning them specifically for transgender people, you create a stigma for anyone who chooses to use such facilities,” VanderHeyden says.

VanderHeyden says it’s important to create a nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students. Another person who opposes the bill is John Forester of the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance. He fears it could lead to a barrage of lawsuits, if enacted.

“We’re concerned that the bill will place districts in an untenable position that risks the loss of federal funds for the school district. Ultimately we believe this issue will be decided by the federal courts and in the meantime we would urge you not to place Wisconsin school districts and school children in the middle of this whole process,” Forester says.

The bill is in response to growing numbers of transgender students, making their identities and needs known. The committee did not act on the measure Thursday.