5/24/2016

Transgender Debate Continues


Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow students to request on religious grounds that their public schools provide a bathroom or other facility that bars transgender people.

The bill appears to be one of the first state-level legislative actions to challenge the Obama administration’s directives, issued last week, that said students must be allowed to use the facilities that match the gender they identify as, even if that is different from their anatomical sex.

The Senate bill introduced on Thursday in Oklahoma defined “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female, as identified at birth” by an individual’s anatomy.

It says any student can request a “religious accommodation” from a school for restrooms, athletic changing facilities or showers that are exclusively used by people with the anatomical sex at birth that is similar to their own.

This means that a male student could request that the school provide facilities only for use by other students who were male when they were born.

It said a student can do so based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The proposed legislation says single-occupancy facilities would not be considered an allowable accommodation.

The bill was authored by Senator Brian Bingman and Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, both Republicans, in response to what it described as an “emergency” and a need to preserve “public peace, health and safety.” It did not mention the Obama administration’s directive specifically.

The guidance letter published last Friday by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education said students must be allowed to use the facilities that match the gender they identify as, even if that is different from with their anatomical sex. 

For districts that refuse to comply, the directive carries the potential threat of legal action or of the withholding of federal funds.

Cathryn Oakley, a senior legislative counsel with the Human Rights Campaign, noted that the administration’s guidance letter reiterated a position that it had held and enforced in scattered cases around the country that involved state challenges.

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