Arkansas is advancing a bill that would bar transgender students from using the school restrooms and changing rooms corresponding to their gender identity.
The state’s House of Representatives passed House Bill 1156 by a vote of 80-10, with five members voting “present,” the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. It now goes to the Senate.
Under the legislation, public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools would have to see that students use the facilities for the gender they were assigned at birth. This would apply to any area “where people ‘may be in various stages of undress’ around others, which includes multiple-occupancy restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms and shower rooms,” according to the paper.
Schools would have to make “a reasonable accommodation,” the bill says, for students who don’t want to use multi-occupancy facilities, such as providing them with a private restroom or changing room. Also, on overnight trips sponsored by schools, students could not share “sleeping quarters with a member of the opposite sex,” with an exception for immediate family members.
Rep. Tippi McCullough, a lesbian and the only LGBTQ+ person in the legislature, spoke out against the bill. “Instead of focusing on keeping our schools on track, principals, superintendents and teachers will have to worry how to keep their bathrooms in regulation,” she said, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
She also said the state is likely to be sued if the bill becomes law. “If this does pass, we will know what will happen and it won’t have anything to do with bathrooms," McCullough said. “Someone’s going to sue, it will be blocked, one day we’ll look up and we’ll see that the taxpayers of Arkansas have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.”
The Human Rights Campaign condemned the legislation, one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically anti-trans bills pending in states around the nation. “The Arkansas politicians who voted for this bill should be ashamed of themselves,” HRC Arkansas State Director Eric Reece said in a press release. “This bill solves no problems and won’t do anything to make life better for the folks who live here. The only thing it will accomplish is to demonize trans kids, make them feel less safe at school, and make their lives even harder than they already are. Schools should be safe and welcoming places for all kids. The Arkansas Senate should refuse to send this bill to the Governor’s desk.”
The HRC notes that so-called bathroom bills fell out of favor after North Carolina passed its bill in 2016 and suffered economic boycotts and other backlash. Since North Carolina’s measure was passed and then partially repealed, “only three states — Tennessee, Alabama, and Oklahoma — have passed legislation mandating anti-transgender discrimination in bathrooms,” the HRC’s press release points out. “Should Arkansas pass this discriminatory legislation into law, it will put schools in a position of having to choose between complying with federal civil rights laws, including the United States Constitution and Title IX, and complying with discriminatory state law.”
Last month, the state's senate advanced a bill categorizing drag shows as "adult entertainment," similar to porn.