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Lawmakers OK ‘bathroom bill’ restricting transgender students’ use of school restrooms


Lawmakers OK ‘bathroom bill’ restricting transgender students’ use of school restrooms

Mar 16, 2023 | 7:23 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
Lawmakers OK ‘bathroom bill’ restricting transgender students’ use of school restrooms
(Photo illustration via Canva)

A ban on transgender students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms that conflict with their assigned sex at birth is headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.

The so-called “bathroom bill,” one of many passed by state legislatures around the country, was approved by House lawmakers Thursday. Its passage came just one week after Iowa lawmakers sent Reynolds a bill that bans gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Democrats and LGBTQ advocates say the latest bill is only the latest in a series of attacks on transgender Iowans that have been advanced during the 2023 legislative session.

“When will this relentless attack on transgender children end?” asked Courtney Reyes, executive director of One Iowa Action following the House action. “It wasn’t enough to strip them of medically necessary care or prevent teachers from talking about them; now, the House has decided to police their restroom usage via the attorney general. We think the attorney general has better things to do than check up on children’s bathroom habits.”

Senate File 482, passed the House on a 57-39 vote, with five Republicans voting against the bill. The measure would prohibit people from using school restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific facilities that do not align with their sex at birth. Schools can provide alternative accommodations for students who do not feel comfortable using the bathroom aligning with their sex at birth, but that step requires parental permission to request accommodations such as using a single-occupancy or staff bathroom.

The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said the bill is in response to requests from parents who are concerned for their children’s privacy and safety in school facilities.

“Now, I do understand and empathize with a child who may not feel comfortable using a bathroom of their biological sex,” Holt said. “Accommodations should be made when possible to keep that child comfortable as they change or use the restroom. However, that cannot be done, or should not be done, at the expense of the privacy and safety of our daughters.”

Democrats said the rules will simply make life more difficult for transgender students. The provision allowing for alternate accommodations will further isolate those students who are already at a higher risk of bullying and mental health problems, Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City said. She asked lawmakers to think about the bill from a transgender child’s perspective: They’re just trying to use the bathroom like any other child, but they’re being told they pose a threat to their classmates.

“We are accepting the false narrative that there is a problem, so that we can sweep in and be heroes — all the while disregarding that our trans kids are the ones who face harassment, and even violence, as a result,” Levin said.

Rep. Austin Baeth, D-Des Moines, questioned whether there have been any cases of reported criminal activities or police reports because of transgender people’s current bathroom use in schools. Becky Tayler with Iowa Safe Schools told lawmakers in subcommittee meetings “not once has there been an accusation of inappropriate conduct” in the 15 years transgender people have had equal facility access in Iowa.

Holt replied that he heard from families in at least six school districts who expressed concerns about transgender students using facilities corresponding to their gender identity.

“I’m not interested in waiting until the child is raped in a restroom by someone pretending to be transgender,” Holt said. “I think I think it is important that we get this done.”

Baeth said it was “completely insulting” to assume that transgender people are more likely to commit a crime than their peers. The fact that there has been no increase in bathroom-related assaults since Iowa allowed transgender people to use their preferred facilities shows that this is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist, he argued. The bill and its enforcement will create new problems, he said.

“I don’t want my kids going to school needing to wield their birth certificate to use the bathroom,” Baeth said. “Folks, I don’t want my kids going to school where adult staff are eyeing my children trying to guess whether they have a penis or a vagina. That’s what this is. You talk about privacy. This is an invasion of privacy.”

If the bill is signed into law, the state attorney general would be responsible for investigating schools accused of allowing people to use bathrooms that do not correspond to their assigned sex at birth. People who believe such an incident is happening at their school would file a complaint with the school, which would have three days to address the complaint. If the person filing the report believes the school did not respond, they could file a complaint with the attorney general for investigation and legal action.

As of Thursday, Reynolds had not signed the bathroom bill or the ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors. If those measures become law, Democrats said, both may be challenged under civil rights law for discriminating against people based on “gender identity,” a protected class.

House Speaker Pat Grassley disagreed with Democrats’ comments, saying the bill was not as “hyper-targeted” on transgender students using the bathroom as opponents claim, saying there are bigger privacy issues at play in facilities like locker rooms.

“The point that we really tried with this bill, they didn’t just focus on saying, ‘gender assigned at birth, that’s the bathroom,'” Grassley told reporters. “It also is going to require the schools make accommodations for anyone that wants to have those accommodations.”