Everything You Need to Know About the Bill Threatening Trans Students'

Transgender students’ rights are at a perilous crossroads in Kentucky. This month, the Kentucky Senate advanced Bill 76 (SB76), also known as the Kentucky Student Privacy Act, which would affect all transgender students who attend a public school in Kentucky.

SB76 would require all students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and other gender-specific areas that match their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. Under the proposed legislation, students could seek special accommodations, such as a unisex bathroom or permission to use faculty bathrooms, although these accommodations are not required and may not be available at all schools. The bill is backed by State Senator C.B. Embry and The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a group whose mission claims that “the integrity of the traditional family is critically important for our culture’s survival.” SB76 was approved by the Senate Education Committee in a surprise secret vote one day after being voted down. The measure has passed through the Senate, and now heads to the State House of Representatives for approval.

Although the bill claims to be protecting privacy, it violates the rights and protections of transgender students who wish to identify as a gender that does not align with their sex. Furthermore, it puts transgender students in uncomfortable, and sometimes threatening, situations. A trans woman forced to use a men’s restroom (and vice versa) is often subject to verbal or even physical harassment.

When the bill was on the floor of the Senate, both proponents and opponents of the bill were able to speak out. Senator Mike Wilson, who spoke in favor of the bill, seemed to think those at risk were actually the cisgender students who would share a bathroom with a transgender student. He noted that the bill was about modesty and protecting minors: “I think as a parent, I don’t want that situation for my daughter.” Senator Gerald A. Neal disagreed, saying: “This is not about modesty. This is about fear."

GLSEN Student Ambassador Casey Hoke made a similar point in “I’m a Transgender Teen and Which Restroom I Use Is None of Your Business,” which was published on the Huffington Post. Casey noted, “When I and many other out transgender individuals use the restroom, we are there to take care of our business wherever we deem comfortable for our identities and expression. We're just like everyone else.” He later adds: “As long as private stalls are available, absolutely no one should suffer from ‘harm’ in the presence of a transgender person unless the person creates a threatening or harmful situation for the other people in the facility. That's bullying, and can come from anyone of any identity.”

Indeed, research shows that transgender youth experience some of the harshest school climates. Transgender students are more likely than their peers to be harassed or assaulted at school and to say they feel unsafe. Transgender girls or women are particularly likely to say they avoid locker rooms because they feel unsafe there. In addition, GLSEN’s research shows that more than half of transgender students nationwide had been required to use the bathroom or locker room of their sex rather than their gender identity. Large percentages had also been prevented from wearing clothing and using names and pronouns that aligned with their gender.   

In Kentucky, according to GLSEN’s State Snapshot from the 2013 National School Climate Survey, 85% of LGBT students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression, and 66% regularly heard negative remarks about transgender people. Furthermore, 33% reported regularly hearing school staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression. In order to help LGBT students in Kentucky, the Snapshot recommends implementing comprehensive school anti-bullying/harassment policies, which specifically protect students’ sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, in contrast to SB76.

One way to combat this bill would be to support SNDA, or the Student Non-Discrimination Act. SNDA is a federal bill that prohibits “discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It would give LGBT students similar rights and protections against harassment as those that currently apply to students based on race and gender.” This bill would give more legal options to LGBT students who face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity -- legal options that transgender students, who are now at risk and can be denied access to the bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity, do not currently have.

To help support SNDA, contact your Congress members and urge them to support safe schools for all students.

Image by Jeffrey Beall