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Just three states bar transgender students from using bathrooms that best fit their gender identity — and Republican lawmakers want to make Arizona the fourth.
The proposal would force schools to provide separate accommodations for students who are “unwilling or unable” to use a bathroom or locker room that matches their biological sex. Refusing to follow that mandate would open schools up to lawsuits from those seeking to recover damages for “psychological, emotional and physical harm.”
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Sen. John Kavanagh, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1040, said the measure is a compromise between trans and gender non-conforming students and their uncomfortable classmates. The Fountain Hills Republican used alarmist imagery to convince fellow lawmakers to support the bill.
“There’s something terribly wrong with making a 15-year-old high school freshman co-ed stand naked in the school shower next to a naked 16-year-old biological male who may identify as female. That’s wrong,” he said.
Every GOP senator voted to approve the bill and send it to the state House of Representatives for further consideration, despite its almost certain rejection from Gov. Katie Hobbs. A similar anti-trans bill, also sponsored by Kavanagh, barring preferred pronoun use in schools was dismissed by Hobbs’ chief of staff as dead on arrival.
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, who, like all of the Democrats in the chamber, voted against the bill, criticized it for singling out trans students when concerns could be resolved via other means. She noted that bathrooms already come equipped with stalls, and suggested requiring schools to hang shower curtains, instead. In a previous committee hearing of the bill, Marsh proposed the bill be changed to ask schools to provide accommodations for uncomfortable students, but that idea was rejected by Kavanagh.
“It’s pretty stigmatizing and discriminatory to expel transgender students from common spaces,” she said.
The bill sends the wrong message, Marsh added, and only serves to worsen the outlook for students who already suffer disproportionate isolation and violence.
“The idea that we’re going to pass a law that tells a certain population of kids that they are so shameful that they shouldn’t be allowed to participate in activities and in proximity to their peers is rather offensive,” she said.
The measure passed 16-14.
The Arizona chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, issued a rebuke of lawmakers who voted for the measure, saying it represents nothing more than an attack on children.
“The Arizona politicians who voted for this bill should be ashamed of themselves,” said State Director Bridget Sharpe. “It is unfortunate that our lawmakers are using their authority to demonize some of our nation’s most vulnerable – our children. These power-seeking politicians will not stop pandering to their base, even if it means keeping a child from using the restroom at school. Schools should be safe and welcoming places for all kids.”
The group lamented Arizona’s contributions to a record wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation. Last year, more than 200 discriminatory bills made their way through statehouses across the country. This legislative session has already exceeded that record, and the number of bathroom ban proposals filed is higher than in any other previous year.
“The Arizona House should refuse to send this bill to the governor’s desk — where it will inevitably be vetoed — and instead focus on real issues,” Sharpe said.
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