The Senate voted 27-9 in favor of a bill that reversed a decision by Louisville’s Atherton High School to allow a student who was born male but identifies as a female to use the girls’ restroom. That school’s decision was vetted and approved twice by the school’s council of parents and administrators, a process the legislature set up in 1990 for schools to make their own policy decisions.
But some parents and students objected because they were uncomfortable with their children sharing a bathroom with someone who was born of the opposite sex, prompting Republican Sen. C.B. Embry of Morgantown to introduce the legislation, which has the support of the Family Foundation of Kentucky.
The bill now goes to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it has tepid support from leadership as the clock winds down on the 2015 legislative session.
California was the first state to pass a law guaranteeing that transgender students can use the bathroom of their gender identities rather than their biological gender. Several states, including Arizona and Utah, have tried to do the opposite but with no success. This year, similar bills to Kentucky’s ban are pending in the legislatures of Texas and Florida.
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Three Republicans and six Democrats voted against the bill for a variety of reasons. Republican Sen. John Schickel of Union and Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said schools should decide issues like this for themselves. And Democratic senators Reginald Thomas and Gerald Neal said the bill was a dangerous step toward discrimination.
“This is not about modesty. This is about fear,” Neal said.
The bill defines a person’s biological sex as “identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.” It requires school officials to make the “best available accommodation” to students who say their gender is different from their biological sex and who have written consent from their parents. That includes single-stall restrooms, unisex bathrooms or “controlled use” of faculty bathrooms.
An earlier version would have allowed students to sue the school for up to $2,500 for not enforcing the law, but Senators removed that language from the bill.
Henry Brousseau, a 16-year-old transgender student at a private school in Louisville, testified before lawmakers last week that at first his school made him use a separate bathroom but “it was outing me every time I had to walk in there because nobody else used them.”
“For me and other trans kids it’s especially hard being in a biological body that simply doesn’t match my gender identity: how I feel in my heart and mind,” he said.
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“Everyone has a right to privacy and deserves to feel safe and comfortable in the restroom,” she said. “So how can this be an appropriate solution when it causes girls to feel uncomfortable?”
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said earlier this week the bill could have support in the House, but said Friday, “I think the House would better spend its remaining days working on different issues.”
The legislature has one week left to pass legislation.
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