Kansas senators have passed a bill that would essentially reward children for reporting trans kids who use certain restrooms and changing facilities.
Despite the fact that there are less than two weeks left on the legislative calendar -- and a mountain of fiscal and social bills that needs attention -- Kansas lawmakers have proposed two bills that take aim at transgender students. The legislation would prevent children from using restrooms that match their gender identity.
The bills -- Senate Bill 513 and House Bill 2737 -- collectively known as the "Student Physical Privacy Act," allege that a "natural" concern over student privacy exists. The act would dictate that students can only access changing facilities that accord with their sex.
The bills state:
"Sex" means the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person's chromosomes, and is identified at birth by a person's anatomy .
In one broad sweep of the pen, then, we are wiping out trans identity entirely. Unfortunately, this isn't the worst provision in the bill.
The legislation would make it unlawful for trans students to use facilities that accord with their gender, stating:
Students who, while accessing a public school or postsecondary educational institution student restroom, locker room or shower room designated for use by such student's sex, encounter a person of the opposite sex, have a private cause of action against the school district or postsecondary educational institution…
The bill goes on to list several qualifying factors, including a four year limit on viable claims.
In a provision that has shocked LGBT rights advocates, the bill then states that students who make such a legal complaint stand to gain a high financial payoff:
Statutory damages in an amount of $2,500 for each instance in which the aggrieved student encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a public school or post secondary educational institution student restroom, locker room or shower room designated for use by the aggrieved student's sex.
Critics say that, whether intentional or not, the bill gives young people an impetus to report trans students -- and further alienate them. There's a high potential for harassment and false accusations.
It's worth highlighting, too, that this legislative push covers state universities. Several universities, including Kansas State University, already have protections in place for trans people. The bill would establish a conflict of powers.
In a begrudging nod to the rights of trans children, the bill does provide accommodations for students who request extra privacy.
However, that provision creates a very narrow allowance that actually falls short of federal law -- it states that trans kids can be given "access to single-stall bathrooms; access to unisex bathrooms; or controlled use of faculty bathrooms, locker rooms or shower rooms."
The federal government has already stated it is unlawful to segregate trans children and make them use staff facilities or specially designated bathrooms.
Both lawmaking chambers are under Republican control, but with the looming April 1 deadline for legislative business to be completed, it's unclear whether Republicans will dare to prioritize this discriminatory initiative.
As Think Progress notes, some Republicans believe these bills are unfocused and distract from issues, like the budget, that need attention.
Currently the legislation awaits hearings in education committees in both the House and Senate.
The time frame looks unlikely, but as North Carolina has just shown with its own attack on trans rights, when Republicans really want to move discriminatory legislation, they can find a way to do it.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, explained that far from protecting students, this legislation has the absolute opposite effect: "This is isolating kids, and it's not going to end well. It's putting a target on their backs."
We must also consider the school climate that this will create for all children. When discrimination is allowed to take root in schools, bullying can affect all students, not just those who are trans or belong to minority groups.
This legislation implies that trans children are a threat to other students and encourages a climate where outing trans people who use the same restroom as you is acceptable -- and even rewarded.
That's a terrible, dangerously transphobic message to send our youth.
The "Student Physical Privacy Act" accompanies more unfortunate news -- Kansas Governor Sam Brownbackhas has signed SB 175 into law. The provision will allow university religious groups to bar LGBTI people from joining their ranks.
To take a stand against trans-phobic legislation, tell Kansas lawmakers to reject discrimination against trans students.