Anti-trans school bathroom bill advances with Arizona GOP backing
Republican lawmakers are charging ahead with their attacks on transgender Arizonans, despite veto promises from Gov. Katie Hobbs, unanimously backing a measure on Tuesday that calls for separate school facilities for trans students.
The House Education Committee voted 6-4, with only Republicans in favor, to pass Senate Bill 1040, which forces schools to provide separate bathroom, shower, and locker room accommodations for trans students or risk lawsuits from their uncomfortable classmates.
The measure’s author, Sen. John Kavanagh, has repeatedly denied accusations that the bill unfairly targets trans students, framing it instead as a protection of modesty.
“This bill attempts to balance the natural, instinctive, historic sense of modesty that human beings have around issues of sex, something which goes back to Adam and Eve hiding behind the bush in the Garden of Eden,” he said.
But Democrats on the panel were unconvinced. When the Fountain Hills Republican invoked the alarmist imagery of a teen girl being forced to shower near a transgender classmate and called it “unconscionable,” Rep. Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, pressed him for evidence of it occurring anywhere in Arizona. Kavanagh was unable to deliver any.
Tucson Democrat Nancy Gutierrez, a former teacher whose office was located in the gym, pointed out that no students of any gender identity are allowed to shower together. But Kavanagh persisted, claiming that it does happen, even as he was unable to provide any evidence or cite a single example.
Gutierrez questioned the logistics behind the proposal. She asked Kavanagh how teachers would be expected to verify the biological sex of students based on sight, especially when thousands of students walk down school hallways every day and teachers are already overburdened with other responsibilities. Kavanagh replied that suspicious teachers could simply confirm the student’s birth certificate with the school office.
Supporters of the bill accused transgender women of posing a danger to non-transgender women, despite multiple investigations of the more than 200 municipalities and 19 states with inclusive non-discrimination ordinances finding zero links between trans-friendly policies and the risk of assault.
“Allowing access to some males provides easy access to predatory males,” said conservative anti-trans activist Nikki Eancheff. “It isn’t LGBTQ hatred or transphobia. For a woman, all unknown men are potential predators until proven otherwise.”
Jeanne Woodbury, a lobbyist for LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Arizona and trans woman, told lawmakers she’s tired of hearing the same decade-old discriminatory rhetoric voiced at the legislature. Kavanagh first introduced a bathroom ban bill in 2013, shortly after Phoenix voted to add gender identity and sexual orientation to its citywide non-discrimination ordinance.
“For the past decade, I’ve never actually been out and trans without having to deal with some kind of legislative conversation about where it’s okay for me to use the bathroom,” she said. “There’s this public conversation about whether we should be able to use these restrooms at all. It makes me feel targeted, it makes me feel isolated.”
As an adult, Woodbury said, she is better able to deal with the negative emotions arising from listening to hateful political rhetoric but she warned that trans youth are more emotionally vulnerable. Trans youth are twice as likely than their classmates to experience depression or consider suicide, and surveys have shown that anti-LGBTQ legislation adds to that risk.
Democrats, who all voted against the measure, denounced it discriminatory and called for a more compassionate approach.
“Let’s stop this rhetoric and this bullying and start taking care of all of our students,” said Gutierrez.
Terech apologized to LGBTQ youth across the state, vowing to continue opposing harmful legislation.
“I’m sorry you have a state legislature determined to make your lives harder,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I’m sorry you have to think about legislation like this when you should be thinking about prom and college and what you’re going to do after you graduate. It isn’t right, and I didn’t come down to the Capitol to legislate hate.”
Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, read from a letter sent by a trans constituent.
“There is no problem for this bill to solve,” they wrote. “Trans people are not causing problems in restrooms, we never have. We just have bodily functions like everyone else. Our existence in a restroom is no more an invasion of privacy than is anyone else in that space. We just need to pee and want to maintain some dignity about it.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.