Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) said in a statement that the the law “is common sense legislation designed to protect the privacy of children and adults.”
“Schools have been sued for not allowing males to use female restrooms, and this legislation is intended to adopt a clear policy and to pre-empt further suits,” Cole wrote.
It’s not the first time state schools have grappled with how to balance the concerns of some parents against the rights of transgender students. A federal judge in Gloucester County denied a transgender student’s request to use the boy’s bathroom, even after the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in in his favor. And a high school student in Fairfax County recently paired with a conservative advocate to sue the school board over its decision to include “gender identity” in its nondiscrimination policy because of concerns that the new rule would lead to uncomfortable bathroom and locker room situations.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has encouraged districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom designated for the gender they identify with and has said that restricting bathroom use for transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia, said in a statement that it is unfortunate that lawmakers continue to go after the rights of a specific group of people.
“It is sad to see the number of bills introduced this session targeted at ensuring that schools and other governmental agencies can purposely discriminate against transgender adults and children in Virginia,” she said.
But Cole said he is on solid ground because of a federal judge’s ruling in the Gloucester County case. Cole said he wrote the bill after the parents of elementary school girls in Stafford County complained to him that a transgender student was using the girl’s bathroom.
The bill would apply to all public bathroom facilities and to school locker rooms. It requires department directors and school boards to write rules mandating that students and others only use bathrooms corresponding to their “anatomical sex.” It also spells out that schools should accommodate students’ request for private bathroom facilities when it is feasible. Students and others who “knowingly” violate the law would be fined $50.
After news reports circulated that the bill would require “genital checks” of students, Cole clarified that school officials could verify a student’s anatomical sex using a birth certificate or school registration. He said enforcement would be spurred by complains from other bathroom users.
“If you’re in a shower, it would be obvious and also depending on what you’re doing in the bathroom, it’ll be obvious,” Cole said.
Robert Rigby, a teacher and advocate for transgender students in Fairfax County, said asking students to police each other in the bathroom is disturbing and could lead to students who are gender non-conforming being accused of using the wrong bathroom.
“It brings a vivid note of intolerance into the school culture for everyone,” Rigby said.