James Hoyt
KU Statehouse News Service
Kansas students gathered April at the Statehouse to protest bills requiring transgender students to use public school bathrooms according to their sex assigned at birth.
House Bill 2737 and its companion bill Senate Bill 513 have been dubbed the Student Physical Privacy Act. They would apply to students using restrooms, locker rooms and showers in public and postsecondary schools.
“I think it definitely has the potential to drive people away from public schools in Kansas,” said Marisa Pecoraro, a sophomore at the University of Kansas, who participated in the protest.
The bills are identical and say “parents have a reasonable expectation that public schools in this state will not allow their minor children to be viewed in various states of undress by members of the opposite sex, nor allow their minor children to view members of the opposite sex in various states of undress.” The bills would allow transgender students to request alternative facilities, with permission of parents or guardians. Schools would then evaluate the request and make accommodations “to the extent reasonable,” which might include access to single-stall or unisex bathrooms.
The bills define sex as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s chromosomes, and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.”
The bills also provide that any aggrieved student who encounters someone of the opposite sex in a school bathroom or locker room can receive up to $2,500 in damages, plus monetary damages for emotional or psychological harm suffered and compensation for attorney’s fees.
Jacob Moyer, a student activist from Shawnee Mission North in Overland Park, said the demonstration was organized to coincide with the Day of Silence, a national event where silent demonstrations are held in public spaces to protest bullying and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in schools. Demonstrators placed rainbow-colored duct tape over their mouths during the protest.
“It is symbolic because of all of the people who have been silenced by bullying against the LGBT community,” Moyer said.
Moyer also said the students participating in the Day of Silence went to school last week with duct tape over their mouths because the Shawnee Mission and Olathe school districts had Friday off.
Topeka transgender activist Stephanie Mott praised the students for protesting and joined the group of 30 on the north lawn. Mott is currently suing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for not amending her gender to female on her birth certificate.
Traffic passing by occasionally honked in support of the protesters while some drivers made obscene gestures.
“That’s the kind of hate we’re trying to end here,” Moyer said. “There’s still a lot of hate in the state of Kansas.”
Protest organizer Caleb Bishop, a student at Olathe North High School, said he didn’t expect such a large turnout.
“We deserve a place where we can feel like we belong and where we can feel safe within our own communities,” Bishop said.
Kansas is one of 28 states without protection from discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based on gender identity or sexuality.
HB 2737 has been referred to the Committee on State and Federal Affairs, and SB 513 has been referred to the Committee on Education. The bills were introduced in mid-March, about a week before the legislature went into recess. Lawmakers return to Topeka on April 27.
Edited by Leah Sitz