A legislative committee heard hours of testimony Thursday on a bill aimed at addressing which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender students can use in public schools.
The legislation, proposed by state Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), would create a statewide policy that requires public school districts to restrict the use of those facilities to students of a single sex, effectively requiring students with a gender identity different from the biological sex from entering them. If asked, districts would still have to provide reasonable accommodations for students by providing access to a private bathroom or changing room.
Several school districts have already adopted their own policies on the issue, in the midst of a national debate over the rights of transgender members of the population. During Thursday’s hearing before an Assembly committee, John Forester with the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance urged the Legislature to respect those policies and to not let politics dictate a sensitive issue. “Don’t put 424 school districts and 860,000 students in the middle of all of this…I have a lot of confidence in my people,” he said.
Rep. Kremer said a statewide policy is needed though to help districts navigate the tricky issue, while protecting them from possible federal lawsuits. The Kewaskum Republican argued the federal government is trying to “impose its will” on schools by requiring kids of the same sex to shower next to each other. “That’s not a societal norm,” he said.
Supporters and opponents filled a Capitol hearing room Thursday, with many people sitting on the floors and standing for hours to have a chance to testify. A full day of testimony included parents, students, and others weighing in on the potential impact of the bill. Many backers of the legislation cited concerns about students trying to abuse the transgender loophole to gain access to opposite sex facilities, while others questioned why the needs of students without gender identity concerns would carry less weight in schools. Julainne Appling with Wisconsin Family Action said “it’s important to remember that a public school district has a responsibility for the privacy and safety of all students, not just one particular class of students.”
One Madison high school student, who identifies in gender neutral ways, testified their school has already taken steps to address the concerns by opening a multi-stalled unisex restroom, which the bill would no longer permit. They noted that it could also put the safety of trans students at risk. “A trans kid who identifies and dresses like a female may not be accepted in the boys’ restroom…this would create more bullying and possibly dangerous situations for transgendered students,” they said.
A committee vote on the legislation has not yet been scheduled, while it also remains unclear whether the bill has enough votes to pass in either chamber of the Legislature.