Schools chief says AZ schools shouldn’t let trans kids use their preferred bathroom

But Tom Horne concedes he has no authority to make schools do anything

By: - August 18, 2023 4:07 pm

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is displayed on a videoboard as he speaks at a public swearing in ceremony on Jan. 5, 2023. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona’s top education official is continuing to lash out at trans inclusive policies, issuing a statement advising public schools across the state to keep school facilities, like bathrooms and locker rooms, separated by biological sex.

“The Arizona Department of Education strongly advises that schools not initiate a policy that allows biological boys to use restrooms, locker rooms or shower facilities that are intended for girls,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said in a news release. “Biological boys who expose themselves to girls could be violating indecent exposure laws and (are) subject to arrest.” 


Scrutinizing who uses public facilities, especially bathrooms, and casting aspersions on trans people have become common refrains among GOP politicians advancing culture war issues. And this isn’t the first time Arizona has played host to the discriminatory rhetoric aimed at trans students. A bill proposed earlier this year by Republican state Senator John Kavanagh would have enshrined Horne’s recommendations into law, but Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs vetoed it. 

Kavanagh anticipates reintroducing a modified version of the legislation next year

And this isn’t Horne’s first foray into anti-trans rhetoric, either. The Republican has also mobilized his office to campaign against trans girls in public school sports and is currently one of two parties defending the state’s trans athletic ban in court, which Arizona’s attorney general refused to back. 

A self-proclaimed advocate of parental rights, Horne said the statement was prompted by complaints from concerned parents who were threatening to leave Arizona schools with LGBTQ-friendly policies. 

“They’re not going to want to have their girls in the restroom and have boys come in and undress with them, even though they’ve got male equipment,” Horne told the Mirror. 

The statement, he added, was also meant to deter school districts from enacting inclusive policies ahead of changes to Title IX. Last year, President Joe Biden proposed amendments to Title IX, a set of federal civil rights laws that prohibit sex-based discrimination which were historically intended to protect cisgender women. 

Biden’s proposal would expand the law’s nondiscrimination shield to include LGBTQ students. But, Horne said, schools seeking to modify their rules to conform with the changes are in the wrong, considering that the proposal is still in the early stages. While the Biden administration initially hoped to make the rule changes official in May, the timeline was pushed back to October to allow for review of an unprecedented number of public comments.

“To the extent that people have begun relying on proposed changes to Title IX, those haven’t become law at this point, and I’m sure there’ll be protests and a legal case involved,” he said. 

In May, during the rule change proposal’s public comment period, Horne wrote in opposition of it

Still, despite his disagreement with trans-inclusive policies, Horne has no power to determine how school districts serve their students. 

“I’m just letting people know my view. I don’t have authority,” he conceded. 

Decisions about district-wide policies are made at the school board level and Heidi Vega, a spokesperson for the Arizona School Board Association, said that, while those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, schools have a duty to create a welcoming environment for all students, regardless of Title IX’s ultimate fate. 

“While waiting for proposed changes to Title IX to be legally implemented, schools can take several proactive steps to address the needs of their students and ensure a safe and inclusive environment,” she said, in an emailed statement. “It’s important to remember that, regardless of legal changes, schools have a responsibility to create an atmosphere where students’ rights and well-being are protected.” 

Some public education advocates criticized Horne for politicizing an office that’s intended to support schools. Teachers across Arizona have real problems that need addressing, said Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. Promoting culture war issues doesn’t help resolve those problems, she said.   

“Teachers need support, they need professional development, they need tools and resources,” she said. “We are the second week in (the 2023-34 school year), and this is what’s coming out of the (Arizona Department of Education) office?” 

Tami Staas, executive director of Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization, lamented the effect the anti-trans rhetoric might have on trans students, who are part of the student body Horne is charged with improving public education for. A study from the UCLA Williams Institute estimated that Arizona is home to more than 7,000 trans minors

“It saddens me that our state superintendent doesn’t want what is best for all Arizona children,” Staas said in an emailed statement. “He continues to marginalize the most vulnerable Arizona students in our classrooms, fueling the fire of hatred that is sweeping our nation in the form of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and legislation.”

LGBTQ people have been the target of an increase in discriminatory rhetoric and lawmaking, with nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed across the country this year, almost double the number introduced last year. And research from the Trevor Project found that anti-LGBTQ legislation and talking points negatively affect the mental health of LGBTQ youth, who are already at a disproportionately high risk of contemplating suicide or suffering from mental health conditions such as depression.

Staas added that research supports the wider implementation of inclusive school policies. Inclusive bathroom policies, in particular, lower the risk of trans students being outed or harassed, while restrictive policies drastically increase the probability of a trans student experiencing violence or assault

Horne’s advisory statement recommended schools set up a separate facility entirely to “meet the needs of transgender students without compromising the dignity of others”, but LGBTQ advocacy organizations warn that doing so merely singles out trans students even more. And forcing trans students to use a separate restroom would likely constitute a violation of Title IX’s expansion, once it’s been implemented.

Garcia called on Horne and other GOP politicians in Arizona to stop targeting LGBTQ students, and urged them and all Arizonans to reflect on the impact of their discussions. 

“I wish politicians would just leave our kids alone, and not seek to use them as a way of gaining political points,” she said. “These are children, and I really hope that people sit back and think, ‘How does this impact a child? And how can we have these conversations in a respectful manner to ensure that everyone’s children feel safe?’”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Gloria Rebecca Gomez
Gloria Rebecca Gomez

Gloria Gomez joined the Arizona Mirror in August 2022. She graduated in 2022 with bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor.