Tom Horne is targeting LGBTQ students, and putting them at risk in the process

August 30, 2023 11:37 am

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If anyone had told me when I started advocating on behalf of my peers in a racially diverse school district in downtown Phoenix several years ago that, rather than focusing on the worryingly low number of school counselors or the mold I saw growing on the boys bathroom ceiling, we would instead see elected officials focus their efforts on restricting which students can use the bathroom, I would have said they were out of their mind. 

Yet, this is our unfortunate reality, and Arizonans are tired of it. 

As an advocate for policies that promote equity amongst diverse student populations in school districts across Arizona, I’ve been so thankful to work with a number of locally elected officials who work tirelessly to ensure every Arizonan can receive a world class education in our public schools. 

But it has become clear that some elected officials, like our superintendent of public instruction, have a different agenda: promoting discriminatory policies that directly harm some of our state’s most vulnerable students. 


On Aug. 17, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne issued a statement in which he declared he had “been contacted by a number of parents who are outraged by the idea that biological boys can use restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities meant for girls.” The problem with this? Horne is not telling Arizonans the truth.

Let’s tell the truth. I have not seen any elected official, school district, board, or commission supporting biological boys using restrooms that are used by biological girls. What we are seeing is elected officials and school districts giving transgender and gender non-conforming students, who would prefer to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, the equity they deserve. 

Transgender girls are not “biological boys” but, rather, people who have begun a transition to change their gender identity — and in a number of circumstances, change their sex. Referring to them as “biological boys” rather than respecting their transitions shows Horne’s insensitivity — in fact, his deliberate and willful ignorance — of his job to ensure Arizona’s public schools are inclusionary spaces where every student can receive a quality education without fear. 

Earlier this year, the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board wasted several board meetings listening to testimony and discussing the legal implications that could arise if the board voted to restrict transgender and gender non-conforming students from using the restroom that correlated with their gender identity. Fortunately, in late April, the board voted against such a policy

If anything can be learned by the example of Peoria Unified, it is that these policies are unpopular and Arizonans will not choose to enact such a policy that will only do harm to students, and fail to give them the tools they need to succeed in the real world.

Personal preference is not the only reason the policy recommended by Horne is dangerous; student safety is also at stake. 

In 2019, a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 19% of transgender girls aged 13-17 in their study had been sexually assaulted in the past year. Shockingly, the study also found that transgender and gender non-conforming students who attended schools that had policies in place requiring them to use the bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex were more likely to have been sexually assaulted, with a 149% increased risk for transgender girls alone. 

Arizonans know that culture war arguments like this one are a waste of time and resources. There are so many issues relating to our public schools that we could focus on fixing, yet elected officials like Horne seek to stir up controversies deeply rooted in the bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community. When will he learn that this is not what his constituents elected him to do?


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Elijah Watson
Elijah Watson

Elijah Watson is a public education advocate working across Arizona to advocate for equitable solutions in the legislature, school districts and many boards and commissions. He currently works as the legislative affairs director for Keep Arizona Blue Student Coalition and also works closely with other advocacy organizations.