This year, state legislators across the country are pushing forward a wave of proposals that specifically prohibit transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity (a.k.a. “bathroom bills”). Despite the ongoing controversy around North Carolina’s HB 2, a signed bathroom bill that’s still on the books, conservative legislators have filed discriminatory bathroom bills in 13 states, and more states will likely see bills as their legislative sessions ramp up.
While claiming to defend “women’s safety” or “students’ safety,” these bills take direct aim at transgender people — often students — by restricting their ability to use restrooms, locker rooms, or other gender-segregated facilities. Some, like Texas’s SB 6, are modeled closely on North Carolina’s law, prohibiting municipalities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances, forcing schools to adopt discriminatory policies, and defining gender strictly as the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate. Other bills, such as Kentucky’s HB 141 and Minnesota HF 41, define gender by chromosomes and human anatomy.
And a proposal in Alabama would actually allow transgender students to use a gender-neutral bathroom — but only if the bathroom was policed by a bathroom attendant.
Here are four big problems with these bills:
1. These bills put an already vulnerable group in more danger.
According to GLSEN research, 60 percent of transgender students report having been prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. Over three quarters (76 percent) of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender, and transgender people (specifically trans girls and women) are at very high risk of experiencing violence throughout their lives, starting even before adolescence. While these bills are designed to ensure “student safety,” they stigmatize transgender students, putting them more in harm’s way.
2. These bills hurt students’ academic achievement – and the educators held accountable for students' success.
State and school districts are now held accountable for high levels of academic attainment and high graduation rates. But the consequences of discrimination, like the discrimination these bills mandate, are real: LGBTQ students who experience discrimination report lower GPAs, higher likelihood of skipping or dropping out of school, higher rates of school discipline, and lower educational aspirations.
3. These bills could lead to a public-health crisis.
Discriminatory policies affect more than just grades. LGBTQ students who experience discrimination, like being prohibited from using the restroom, report higher levels of depression and lower self-esteem. Research shows that, as a result of hostile school climate, transgender students are more likely to abuse drugs than the general population. This places an oversized burden on school-health and public-health officials.
4. These bills would be nearly impossible to implement and enforce as they are written.
Enforcing these bills would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for schools and extraordinarily invasive toward transgender students.
As GLSEN works closely with our Chapters, national LGBTQ groups, and state partners to push back against this wave of discriminatory legislation, you can help fight by signing up to take advocacy actions through GLSEN UP and sharing our research on the experiences of LGBTQ students in your state. There are too many problems with these bills for us not to act now and try to stop them.
Andrew Peters is the State Policy Manager at GLSEN.