South Carolina Senator Introduces Anti-Trans 'Bathroom Bill'

State Sen. Lee Bright
State Sen. Lee Bright

A far-right South Carolina state senator has introduced a bill that would prevent local governments from adopting ordinances that affirm transgender people’s right to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities that match their gender identity.

Republican Sen. Lee Bright, who has a long anti-LGBT record, introduced Senate Bill 1203 Wednesday, reports The Post and Courier of Charleston. He promoted the bill using an argument that has been soundly, repeatedly debunked — that transgender people somehow pose a threat to women and children. He also asserted that trans people’s gender is a figment of their imagination.

“There’s a segment of the population that believes that you ought to be able to use whatever restroom you identify yourself as being,” he said Wednesday, according to the paper. “So they think it’s OK for a man to use a woman’s bathroom if he thinks he’s a woman. From a safety issue, we don’t need men going in women’s bathrooms.”

His bill reads in part:

“Units of local government in this State may not enact local laws, ordinances, orders, or other regulations that require a place of public accommodation or a private club or other establishment not in fact open to the general public to allow a person to use a multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility regardless of the person's biological sex. A local law, ordinance, order, or other regulation enacted by a unit of local government to require a person to use a multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility designated for his biological sex is not a violation of this chapter and does not constitute discrimination based upon a protected category.” It defines “biological sex” as the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

It also requires public schools, public colleges and universities, and government agencies to designate use of multi-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms according to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. They could designate single-occupancy facilities as gender-neutral. Private businesses could set their own policies.

The bill could threaten federal funding to South Carolina schools, as the policies it seeks to create are in direct opposition to current interpretations of federal protections guaranteed to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The federal Department of Education and the Department of Justice have both stated that Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, or any student’s failure to adhere to gender norms as defined by society. 

The bill is somewhat narrower than neighboring North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which prevents local governments from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in public accommodations but also in other realms, such as employment and housing.

Some activists and other politicians warned that South Carolina should be mindful of the backlash that North Carolina’s law has generated. “Besides the whole human rights issue, it’s bad for business,” Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance, a South Carolina civil rights group, told The Post and Courier. He noted PayPal’s cancellation of plans for an operations center in Charlotte, which would have provided 400 jobs. Bright's bill conflicts with ordinances in the cities of Charleston, North Charleston, and Folly Beach as well as Charleston County, he said.

“I can see no logical reason why we would entertain such a ridiculous measure,” added state Sen. Joel Lourie, a Democrat who has often clashed with Bright. “We don’t need to join in this national conversation that can result in serious economic problems for this state.”

Bright’s other anti-LGBT actions include introducing a bill in 2014 that would have allowed public employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples without facing punishment; it has not advanced in the legislature. Last year, he used the debate over the state’s flying of the Confederate battle flag to deliver an antigay rant, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling served to  “sanctify deviant behavior” and that “the devil is taking control of this land and we’re not stopping him.”

As for the idea that transgender people pose a threat in public restrooms, while more than 200 localities nationwide have trans-inclusive public accommodations laws on the books, there has never been a single verified report of a transgender person assaulting a cisgender (nontrans) person in a restroom, nor have there been any instances of someone “pretending” to be transgender to gain access to sex-segregated spaces for nefarious purposes. By contrast, however, transgender people face a much higher risk of being the victims of physical and verbal assault in sex-segregated spaces, compared to their cisgender peers. 

 

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