With the introduction of Senate Bill 76 to the state General Assembly last week, Kentucky came to the forefront of a growing national debate concerning transgender rights.
SB76, also known as the “Kentucky Student Privacy Act” would, if passed, ban transgender students in grades K-12 from using school restrooms and locker rooms which don’t correspond to their anatomical sex. Students who encounter a transgender person of the opposite sex in one of these locations would be allowed to sue the school for $2,500.
Under the bill, transgender students may ask their school for reasonable accommodations to be made such as access to unisex or faculty restrooms.
Advocates on both sides of the issue spoke out this week including the bill’s author Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown.
Embry said he introduced the bill on behalf of the conservative educational organization, Family Foundation of Kentucky, and in response to a new policy enacted by Atherton High School in Louisville, Ky., last year.
In an 8-1 vote by Atherton’s site-based decision-making council, a transgender male student was allowed to use restroom facilities designated for girls. This decision was later upheld in a 5-1 vote by the Jefferson County Public School appeals board.
“Schools have a duty to respect the privacy rights of students including the right not to be compelled to undress or be unclothed in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex,” he wrote in his bill.
Jody Cofer Randall, Murray State’s LGBT program coordinator, said the bill is idiotic and not about students’ right to privacy at all.
“This is a really ugly bill,” Cofer Randall said. “Basically it’s putting a bounty on trans-peoples’ heads and has drawn attention to this line of thought that if you can find a trans-person in a bathroom you win $2,500.”
Cofer Randall said while this bill does not have a direct impact on Murray State, many of the high schools and potential Murray State students in the University’s service region would be affected. Cofer Randall said the University is often called upon to help with LGBT issues in area high schools which do not have the training or personnel to deal with them on their own.
Apart from ethical concerns, the bill’s introduction has also raised legal concerns about whether SB76 will come into conflict with federal Title IX protections which were extended to transgender students in 2014.
According to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”
Schools found to be in non-compliance with Title IX can lose their federal funding or be subjected to substantial damages in cases brought to court.
Ethan Mainstruck, freshman from Benton, Ky., said he could see the logic behind the bill, but does not think it is reasonable. He said the bill seems to address a specific incident more than an actual problem Kentucky schools are facing.
“I think it’s a reaction based on how the public views transgender persons,” Mainstruck said. “Most people wouldn’t exactly be accepting of them so that’s people’s first reaction, to automatically go against anything transgender related.”
Chase Adams, sophomore from Bowling Green, Ky., said what schools’ policies are concerning transgender persons bathroom use shouldn’t be up to the government.
“There shouldn’t be a bill that says all schools should allow it or a bill stating no schools should allow it,” Adams said. “Passing that bill would be pushing just one thought on the whole entire school system of the whole state when it should be up to that school.”
Story by Ben Manhanke, Chief Videographer