News Law and Policy

Proposed Wisconsin Bill Would Discriminate Against Transgender Youth

Jenn Stanley

The GOP-backed bill would require school boards to designate bathrooms and locker rooms as being exclusively for one gender.

Two Wisconsin Republican lawmakers proposed a bill this month that would keep transgender students from using the restrooms designated for the gender with which they identify.

News of the planned legislation came just weeks after a transgender teen from Madison took his own life. While these events are unrelated, advocates said they may be representative of a discriminatory culture reinforced by the GOP-majority Wisconsin legislature.

In a memo to state lawmakers, Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and state Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said that their proposed bill is “in response to recent incidents around the state” and that “no student of any gender should be made to feel uncomfortable or threatened in the most private places in our schools.”

The “incidents” were not identified.

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The bill, which has yet to be introduced, would require school boards to designate bathrooms and locker rooms as being exclusively for one gender. It defines gender as being “the physical condition of being male or female, as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual’s anatomy.”

Under the bill, schools will be required to make special accommodations for transgender students if they request them, meaning a gender neutral bathroom will have to be provided. Kremer said in an interview this month with the Wisconsin State Journal that the bill’s purpose is to provide “safety” and “privacy” to students using these rooms.

He said that safety fears could arise when female students entering a bathroom are followed by someone and they don’t know if that person is a transgender student or someone who is “up to no good.”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker told reporters last month that while he hasn’t officially come out in support of the bill, he is open to the measure.

Many school district officials worry that if passed, the bill would conflict with federal policy regarding student discrimination, known as Title IX. Some transgender advocates say this kind of logic is in itself discriminatory. GSAFE, an LGBTQ student advocacy group, said that the bill is “mean-spirited” and it would make transgender students less safe, according to Madison TV station WKOW.

“In the nearly 60 Wisconsin school districts that follow best practices, no incidents have been reported of a nontransgender student being harassed,” Brian Juchems, GSAFE director of education and policy, told WKOW. “All this bill does is single out transgender and intersex students for increased scrutiny and harassment, directly jeopardizing their safety.”

Information from Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, mirrored that sentiment.

A transgender person should use the restroom that corresponds to his or her gender identity.

The medical community (and increasingly, employers, schools and courts) now recognize that it is essential to the health and well-being of transgender people for them to be able to live in accordance with their internal gender identity in all aspects of life—restroom usage is a necessary part of that experience.

In Doe v. Regional School Unit, the Maine Supreme Court held that a transgender girl had a right to use the women’s bathroom at school because her psychological well-being and educational success depended on her transition. The school, in denying her access, had “treated [her] differently from other students solely because of her status as a transgender girl.” The court determined that this was a form of discrimination.

When the Wisconsin State Journal asked if a parent could ask that a transgender student be expelled, Kremer said it would be up to the local school board to decide.

Houston voters are taking up a similar issue on Tuesday. They must decide on an anti-discrimination ballot question that covers areas such as housing and employment. One of its most controversial items is whether people can use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker supports the bill, but conservative pastors and activists opposed to LGBTQ rights have fought it in court since the city council passed it last year.

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