February 6 Post
The Wisconsin Assembly held public hearings on Assembly Bill 469, introduced by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), which limits which bathrooms transgender students could access. Under the proposed law, public schools would be required to designate restrooms and changing rooms “male” or “female” and require all students to only use the room designated by genetic gender. Later amendments allow for single-stall restrooms available to transgender students or other requesters whose parents/guardians request the accommodation in writing.
Proponents of this bill argue school safety. A release by Representative Kremer states, “This bill is first and foremost to keep our kids safe. Clarifying the appropriate use of bathroom and locker facilities will ensure that the dignity of all students is respected in these areas where privacy and safety are paramount.” Kremer and Nass also state this bill “reinforces the societal norm in our schools that students born biologically male must not be allowed to enter facilities designated for biological females and vice versa.”
Opponents argue for the mental health of transgender students, asserting requiring students to go into same-gender bathrooms place transgender and gender non-conforming students at risk for discrimination and harassment In an article, Megin McDonell, interim executive director of Fair Wisconsin, said the bill “singles out, isolates and stigmatizes transgender students, who often already face harassment and exclusion at school. It also undermines the advances many school districts across Wisconsin, and the nation, have made allowing students to use facilities and participate in sports and activities consistent with their gender identity.” Other opponents argue this law would place school districts in jeopardy of lawsuits: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have said discrimination against transgender people, including bathroom restrictions, is a form of sex discrimination covered under the Civil Rights Act.
Nationally, organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign note that this law is part of an “alarming uptick of anti-transgender state bills across the country.”
Implications for Wisconsin Public Schools:
The proposed law may contradict what local school boards have established. More than 60 school districts have created local policies to address access concerns for their transgender students, according to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article. Further questions arise about the bill’s definition of sex “as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual’s anatomy”: does this require a district to have a database of genetic information about students?
Connection for English Language Arts/ NCTE:
NCTE recognizes the need to support all students, as evidenced in its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Academic Studies Advisory Committee. Long recognizing the reality that LGBTQ students need to see themselves in the literature present at school, NCTE values the need for students to have a safe bathroom option in place. Students who feel validated and safe at school will learn better.