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Arkansas Seeks to Criminalize Trans People's Restroom Use

Arkansas Seeks to Criminalize Trans People's Restroom Use

From left: Arkansas Sens. John Payton and Joshua Bryant
Courtesy Arkansas Senate

Under a bill advancing in the state, they could be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child in certain circumstances.

Arkansas is advancing a bill that would criminalize transgender people’s restroom use in certain circumstances, making it the most extreme “bathroom bill” in the nation.

Senate Bill 270, approved by senators Tuesday and sent to the state’s House of Representatives, would make it possible to charge a person with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child if the person “enters into and remains in a public changing facility that is assigned to persons of the opposite sex while knowing a minor of the opposite sex is present in the public changing facility,” as the bill’s text states. The charge would be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

The bill defines sex as “a person’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth” and “public changing facility” as “without limitation a restroom, bathroom, locker room, or shower room.”

There are some exceptions, such as for parents accompanying very young children, emergency responders, and health inspectors.

The Republican-majority Senate voted 19-7 in favor of the bill, with six members not voting and one voting present.

Sen. John Payton, the bill’s sponsor, “called the measure narrowly crafted,” the Associated Press reports. “I just don’t see this as being the bill that stops people from going into the wrong bathroom,” he told fellow senators, according to the AP. “Hopefully it just limits it to when children are present.”

However, Sen. Joshua Bryant, the only Republican voting against the bill, said it doesn’t take intent into account. He “compared it to charging someone with armed robbery if they took a concealed handgun into a building where it’s not allowed,” the AP reports.

He also pointed out that it would apply even to trans people who’ve undergone gender-confirmation surgery. “I may not understand why they did it, I may not agree with why they did it, but it was their decision as an adult,” he said.

The measure goes much further than the law that North Carolina adopted in 2016, barring trans people from using restrooms matching their gender identity only if the restrooms were on government property. There were no criminal penalties attached. North Carolina received much criticism over that legislation and was subjected to economic boycotts. The law has now been repealed.

Another “bathroom bill” is advancing in Arkansas. In February, the House approved a bill that would bar trans students at public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools from using the school restrooms and changing rooms corresponding to their gender identity. It awaits action in the Senate.

LGBTQ+ activists objected strongly to the state’s moves to restrict restroom usage. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and her partner, Beck Major, both trans, live in Little Rock and have a 2-year-old son. In a few years, they will have to either send him into public restrooms alone or risk charges, if the Senate bill becomes law. “Those are two horrible choices for a parent to make,” Beck Major told the AP.

Arkansas resident Kathy Brown-Nichols, a self-described butch lesbian, said she’s often harassed in restrooms because of her appearance and fears the Senate bill would make it increase. Legislators “are putting a big bull’s-eye on people that are different,” she said.

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, called the bill “an attack on the continued existence in public of transgender people and the criminalization of being transgender in public.” At least 17 bills on restroom use have been introduced in 11 states this year.

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