A top Republican on the House Education Committee is pushing a trio of bills aimed at the transgender community in Arizona, including penalizing schools for referring to a student by a pronoun that isn’t the gender associated with their biological sex.
Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, has already proposed a slew of education related bills ahead of the legislative session which starts next week. Fillmore is the vice-chairman of the Education Committee in the Arizona House of Representatives.
House Bill 2082 would create a new law that would require a school superintendent, principal, teacher or any other school employee to use the sex or gender pronoun that “corresponds to the sex listed on that student’s birth certificate.”
If an employee of a school refuses to do so, a school could be penalized, though the bill does not outline what that penalty would be. Fillmore did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
One impetus for the bill might be the firing last year of an art teacher at Arizona College Preparatory in Chandler after she allegedly discriminated against a transgender student, refused to call another transgender student by their preferred name and routinely proselytized her Christian faith to her class.
Researchers in 2018 found that using the chosen pronoun of a transgender youth reduced the rates of depression and suicide. The University of Texas study found that 71% had fewer symptoms of depression, 34% had fewer thoughts of suicide and there was a 64% decrease in suicide attempts.
Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Board Association said his organization isn’t taking a stance on the bill and likely won’t unless it gets scheduled for a committee hearing.
“However, we haven’t seen that this is an issue that presents a concern to school districts in Arizona, and certainly not a big enough concern that a state law is necessary,” Kotterman said. “Teachers and school staff make an impact by building relationships with students that are based on trust and respect. Part of that for some students is how they wish to be recognized.”
Kotterman added that schools are able to handle these sorts of issues on a “case-by-case basis” and that it is a private issue “between the student, the student’s parents, and school officials.”
LGBTQ advocates say HB2082 is harmful.
“This bill will only exacerbate the already hostile climate we already have,” Madelaine Adelman, co-founder of the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, a group that advocates for safer learning environments for LGBTQ youth said.
A little more than 40% of transgender students nationwide have not been able to use their chosen gender pronoun in school, according to a recent study by GLSEN. That number is also higher than previous years, Adelman said.
“The lack of safe educational learning environments is setting them up for failure,” she said.
Fillmore also has two other bills that appear to be aimed at the transgender community in Arizona.
House Bill 2081 adds language into state law on how birth certificates are issued. The law currently does not mandate a birth certificate to say if a child is male or female at birth, but Fillmore’s bill would mandate that a birth certificate include that information.
And House Bill 2080 would require that any document issued by any agency, board, commission or department of the state may only indicate an individual’s sex as either male or female. Currently, there is no mandate for the state to say otherwise.
ID cards can be an issue for transgender people.
A 2015 survey of transgender Arizonans by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 32% said that when their physical appearance did not match the gender on their ID, they were physically assaulted or harassed.
Only 11% of respondents reported having identification that matched the gender pronoun that they preferred.
To Adelman, Fillmore’s bills concerning state IDs and birth certificates could set a dangerous precedent.
“Once you do that, you then influence and determine all related policies and practices,” Adelman said.
By having the state intervene and confirm that there are only the two binary choices, it is restricting options for an individual who may question their gender or sexuality in the future, according to Adelman.
“What message does it send to young people that we have legislators that believe that they don’t deserve to exist?” Adelman said.
Currently, 11 states offer multiple gender options on birth certificates and a recent survey by Pew Research found that 4 out of 10 adults believe a third option should be available on driver’s licenses.
“Where is this concern coming from?” Adelman said, adding she would “love to sit down with” Fillmore to discuss the bill and transgender issues.