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Okla. Lawmakers Lie, Revive Anti-LGBT Bill

Okla. Lawmakers Lie, Revive Anti-LGBT Bill

Okie

Legislators reneged on their promise to not advance a bill that would allow religious objections to transgender students using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

Activists with the LGBT organization Freedom Oklahoma say they were told by leaders in the state House that a bill to stigmatize trans students would not go forward -- but hours later, legislative committee members considered advancing the odious legislation.

The Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget went ahead and held a hearing on transphobic Senate Bill 1619 Tuesday, The New Civil Rights Movement reports, but recessed with a 10-10 tie vote, This doesn't mean the legislation is dead, though.

Senate Bill 1619, introduced Thursday by Sen. Brian Bingman and House Speaker Jeff Hickman, aims to provide a so-called religious exemption for cisgender (nontrans) students who do not want to share a bathroom with a transgender student.

The legislation itself is unclear about its scope but outright rejects the very existence of transgender people, inaccurately declaring that "sex" is an immutable characteristic that is "identified at birth by that individual's anatomy." The bill includes no mention of how schools should accommodate intersex or nonbinary individuals, who may have anatomy that cannot be readily categorized as strictly "male" or "female."

Further, the bill falsely implies that allowing, for example, a transgender girl to use the women's restroom is equivalent to allowing a "male" to use the ladies' room. Essentially, SB 1619 refuses to recognize that, as the Department of Justice recently explained, transgender men are men, and transgender women are women.

The central premise of the legislation, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes, is that forcing cisgender students to share a bathroom with their transgender peers violates the cisgender student's freedom of religion. Although the bill does not explain how one's faith practice might be connected to another person's gender identity, it does create a new legal path for students -- or their parents -- to claim their religious freedom has been violated by sharing space with someone believed to be transgender.

Under SB 1619, any school that allows restrooms, locker rooms, or showers "designated for the exclusive use of the male sex to be accessed by members of the female sex," or vice versa, must also allow students and their guardians to file a formal request for "religious accommodation." The bill is unclear what precisely that accommodation should include, though it explicitly states that asking students who are uncomfortable sharing a restroom with trans peers to use a single-occupancy restroom or locker room is "not an allowable accommodation."

The legislation does not include directions for where transgender students should relieve themselves while on school grounds. However, it does declare that the current situation is an "emergency" that must be addressed immediately "for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety." Because of this, the legislation would take effect July 1 or immediately after it was signed into law, whichever comes first.

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