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Kentucky Senate panel takes another vote; advances transgender bathroom bill

Kentucky Senate panel takes another vote; advances transgender bathroom bill
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Transgender students would have to use separate restrooms in Kentucky’s public schools under a bill that cleared the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort.
Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort.

The bill failed to pass the committee last week when two Republicans were absent. But chairman Mike Wilson called a special meeting late Monday afternoon and the bill passed by a vote of 8-1. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate.

It’s unclear how it would fare in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. But it could signal the opening of a new front in the state’s hotly contested culture wars that have until now mostly been fought over abortion and gay marriage.

The bill would not force transgender students to use the restroom of their biological birth. But it would ban them from using the restroom of their gender identity, instead requiring that the school provide them with a separate restroom.

The issue has been in the public eye since Louisville’s Atherton High School changed its policy last year to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their sexual identity. Since then, 16-year-old sophomore Christina Kelty has used a private, single-stall restroom because she said she is uncomfortable using the bathroom with a student who was born male. Others, she said, have decided not to use the bathroom at all while at school.

“Since a person’s gender identity is what they think and feel about themselves versus something that can be physically seen, girls in the restroom have no way to tell if someone is transgender or not, meaning anyone can now walk into the girls restroom and girls aren’t able to tell them to leave,” Kelty told lawmakers. “Plus, consider the girls who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. For many it may be hard enough to sit next to a boy in class, much less to force them to use the restroom with a physically male student.”

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David Kelty, Christina Kelty’s father, testified he was uncomfortable with his two daughters using the bathroom with a student who was born male. But Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas, who was the lone vote against the bill, said thinking like that was dangerous.

“There was a time in our country when people said we shouldn’t have racial integration of schools because they didn’t feel comfortable with blacks and whites going to the same school,” Thomas said.

“I don’t think that’s the same kind of issue,” Kelty said. “In that case, it was very obvious just based on the color of skin people were making a judgment, with the transgender students there is a continuum between male and female and it is something that is in their heart, it’s in their head, that I know of.”

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Republican Senators voting for the bill were mostly silent. Republican Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea said he voted for the bill to have “more people talk about it” and said he could vote against it on the Senate floor. Last week, Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams was the only Republican to vote against the bill. She did not attend Monday’s hearing.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the bill would likely have support in the House.

“We certainly would be sympathetic to young people who are confronted with those issues. We understand that that’s obviously a very, very, very sensitive area in their lives and it comes at a very critical time in their life,” Stumbo said. “So I think there would at least be an effort for us to look at it over here.”

Sixteen-year-old transgender student Henry Brousseau, who attends a private school in Louisville, called Monday’s vote a “travesty.” He said forcing transgender students to use a separate restroom would be discrimination.

“Being trans isn’t a fad. It isn’t a passing or fleeting thought. It is immutable. And the last time I checked, it is illegal to discriminate against immutable characteristics,” he said.

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