Idaho passes law letting students sue for “emotional harm” if they see a trans kid in the restroom

Gov. Brad Little (R) at the White House in 2018
Gov. Brad Little (R) at the White House in 2018Photo: White House photo/via Wikipedia

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) signed a bill last week that bans transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identities and requires them to use facilities that align with their sex assigned at birth.

The bill says that transgender students who are “unwilling or unable” to use the wrong bathroom can request a reasonable accommodation in writing. Some of those accommodations, like single-person makeshift restrooms, have already been found to violate transgender students’ rights by federal courts.

The bill also allows cisgender students to sue school districts if they “encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a public school restroom, changing facility, or sleeping quarters designated for use by aggrieved student’s sex.” They will be entitled to $5000 for each instance of sharing a facility with a trans student as well as attorney’s fees and damages for “psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.”

In other words, the bill will be enforced by lawsuits against already cash-strapped school districts.

“LGBTQ+ people in Idaho deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, the bills that Gov. Little is signing into law will make life harder on LGBTQ+ folks across the state,” said the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Cathryn Oakley in a statement. “These bills will not accomplish anything other than to further alienate and stigmatize those already on the margins of life in this state.”

Arkansas and Iowa passed similar legislation last week. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a bill banning trans youth from using the correct bathrooms, as well as a ban on trans youth accessing gender-affirming care.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed a bathroom bill that goes beyond what other states are doing and imposes criminal penalties. Someone who uses a public restroom – not just in schools – associated with their gender identity and not their sex assigned at birth could be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child if they know that “a child of the opposite sex is present.”

The bills could be found to violate federal law. Title IX, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education, has been interpreted as banning anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in schools because it’s impossible to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people without taking sex into account.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021 guaranteeing equal rights to LGBTQ+ youth in schools, and the Department of Education confirmed that Title IX protects LGBTQ+ youth.

Idaho Republicans – including Little himself – have been at the forefront of attacking transgender equality. In 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Little signed the first state law banning trans youth from participating in school sports. It was blocked by a federal judge with a temporary injunction after a transgender cross-country runner sued the state.

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