Kentucky’s anti-transgender SB76, or the Kentucky Student Privacy Act, failed by a single vote in a Senate committee hearing Thursday. And ironically, the failure of a bill with “privacy” in its name will actually do more to protect Kentucky students’ privacy than if it had passed.
SB76 was the brainchild of Republican Senator C.B. Embry Jr. (below), who introduced the measure back in January. Under the guise of “privacy,” the bill would have banned transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. So a student who was assigned male at birth but lived and presented as a girl would have to use the boys’ restroom (or a “separate-but-equal” unisex bathroom, if one existed), and vice versa for a trans boy assigned female at birth.
“I think this legislation would eliminate a great deal of bullying because there would be no confrontations. Everyone would be accommodated,” the bill sponsor said, arguing separate facilities would respect privacy rights across the board.
Everyone? Not trans students forced to use a bathroom that doesn’t reflect who they are. Nonetheless:
“This bill deals with privacy, choice and common sense. It would call for school children to use the restroom facilities of their biological sex,” Embry said. “That would make all students feel comfortable and secure and regarding privacy as well.
“It would also accommodate transgender students who certainly need to be cared for and protected and accommodations made for them. It would also give schools many choices as to how to do that.”
His logic, of course, stems from the transphobic and wildly disproved idea that people will take advantage of trans-inclusive facilities policies to sexually harass and prey on other people, women in particular. This has not happened in any of the hundreds of places in the United States where trans people have equal access to bathrooms, and there’s no reason for that to change — sexual harassment is still illegal, no matter a person’s birth-assigned sex.
Another speaker at the hearing was Henry Brousseau, a trans student at Louisville Collegiate School who had previously been barred from using the boys’ restroom at school. Brousseau told the crowd that while he wasn’t exactly comfortable speaking out about where he uses the bathroom, it had to be done.
“Because the school administration did not support my gender identity by letting me use the restrooms concordant with my gender identity the kids in my school bullied me. The kids thought that because the administration didn’t support my gender identity, they didn’t have to either,” Brousseau told the panel.
Thankfully, Embry’s transphobia didn’t make it through to enough of the voting members of the panel. Lawmakers voted 6-3 on the bill, with one member passing. The measure needed seven votes to get out of committee, and so it will not move on to the full Senate.
“The message is clear with this bill: We don’t belong,” Henry said during his testimony.
An earlier version of the bill had also included a provision whereby students could sue their school for $2,500 if they saw a trans student using the “wrong” bathroom. Even with that terrifying, witch-hunt-inducing portion removed, the committee thought better than to vote the measure forward — but just barely.
“I’m extremely excited it failed,” Henry said after the vote. “I hope that’s the end of it.”
Several of the six Republican legislators who voted for the bill told Henry that he was courageous in his testimony. Most of the lawmakers favoring the bill said discussion on the proposal needs to continue.
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, told Henry that he didn’t hate him. Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, said to Henry, “I love you, man.”
The fight isn’t over in Kentucky and states like it, where “religious freedom” is touted too often as an excuse to discriminate and the culture is still overwhelmingly homophobic and transphobic. But small victories like this one shouldn’t be overlooked. Even a slight lean toward equality can and will make a difference — in this case, for the trans students in Kentucky who deserve the same rights to use the bathroom at school as everyone else.