Updated May 20, 2016, 5:30 PM EST: The bill passed in committee 20-15. It now heads to the House and Senate floor for votes.
Today, HRC and Freedom Oklahoma, the state organization working to advance equality for LGBT Oklahomans, strongly condemned the introduction of a new anti-transgender bill in the Oklahoma State Legislature. The outrageous proposal would force schools to make accommodations for students who purport to have religious objections to sharing a sex-segregated space with transgender students. Going a step further, the legislation also strangely states that allowing students with religious objections to use a single-user facility is not an acceptable accommodation.
“To be clear, transgender young people are the ones being targeted. Legislators should be working to find solutions that ensure that they are safe and treated equally by their school, not stigmatized by the people elected to protect them,” said HRC Communications Director Jay Brown. “Like so many of the anti-transgender bills we’re seeing, this is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. School districts across this country have had policies in place for more than a decade with no safety problems at all. This does nothing more than demean transgender students and undermine their dignity. If passed, Governor Fallin must veto this bill, which gambles with the lives and safety of young people.”
"In a time when our state is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, our lawmakers should be focused on righting the ship rather than stigmatizing transgender youth,” said Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma. “Using school children to distract from the legislative quagmire should outrage the senses of every fair-minded Oklahoman. Freedom Oklahoma is calling on legislators to abandon this legislation before it adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the already $1.3 billion budget shortfall, and if they don't, we will see them in court."
Despite claims to the contrary by anti-LGBT activists who have preyed on misinformation and ignorance, states with laws protecting transgender people’s access to public accommodations, including restrooms that accord with their gender identity, have seen no increase in public safety incidents. Cities and states throughout the country have rejected similar attacks on the transgender community. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed legislation that limited restroom use for transgender children in public schools earlier this year, and the sponsor of a similar bill in Tennessee recently pulled the legislation from consideration. Additionally, after immense backlash, the City Council of Oxford, Ala. rescinded an anti-transgender ordinance that imposed jail time and a fine on violators of the law.
Targeting transgender youth in this way is especially dangerous. One academic study this year found that restricting restrooms for transgender teens correlates with a high suicide rate. Similarly, another study this year found that transgender youth who are allowed to express their gender identity have good mental health outcomes.
Further, bills justified by this type of rhetoric are simply incorrect on the facts. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books allowing transgender people non-discrimination protections in access to public accommodations and the ability to use the restroom that matches their gender identity, and more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted similar policies. Multiple fact checkers have found that there have been no recorded examples of public safety incidents stemming from these policies.
Oklahoma’s proposed law is also a violation of the Civil Rights Act. Last week, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance for school districts to ensure transgender students are treated with dignity in public and federally-funded schools, including having equal access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. While this guidance is consistent with previous guidelines and enforcement by the Departments, the treatment of transgender students has become a national issue following the recent passage of the discriminatory HB2 law in North Carolina. Among its shameful provisions, HB2 prohibits public school students from using restrooms and other school facilities consistent with their gender identity.
For several years, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have been interpreting and enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotyping as unlawful sex discrimination. Additionally the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently upheld the Department of Education’s assertion that the nation’s civil rights laws protect transgender students from discrimination, including in the provision of bathrooms. There is no doubt that this bill is a blatant violation of Title IX and would not withstand a challenge in court.