Jessica Larson
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Advocates for transgender rights are glad the Kansas legislature did not pass bills that would have determined which bathrooms transgender people can use. However, they are looking ahead toward an uncertain future.
Elliot DeCosta, a transgender man and recent Lawrence Free State High School graduate, said the Student Physical Privacy Act, introduced in House Bill 2737 and Senate Bill 513, would put transgender people in harm’s way.
“One of the biggest, most talked about, most well-known issues in the [transgender] community is finding spaces that are safe for [transgender] people to use,” DeCosta said.
Last session, the House and Senate bills proposed new laws that would have required public school and college students across the state to use restrooms that matched the biological sex they were assigned at birth, regardless of whether individuals identified as a man or woman.
The bills said if a transgender person used the wrong gendered bathroom, it could create “potential for disruption of educational activities and unsafe situations.” The bills proposed a $2,500 fine for individuals who disobeyed the bill. It also said students could request alternative or separate bathroom accommodations if their parents approved.
The bills were left in committee at the time the legislature adjourned. But advocates fear they could be reintroduced in the next session.
“There’s always a risk for [transgender] people, whether they’re in school or out of school. But in schools, [transgender] kids can be particularly vulnerable. High schools and middle schools are perfect places for harassment and bullying,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas.
DeCosta said the alternative accommodations proposed by the legislature are not always available, and even if they are, they might cause transgender people to out themselves in order to use them.
This was DeCosta’s experience at his high school during the 2014-2015 school year.
He said the only option for a unisex bathroom was the one wheelchair accessible bathroom in the school, which required a key.
“I had to have a parent come in and support me with a statement so that the school would give me a key. Essentially, if you’re not out at home, then you have no hope of accessing these resources,” DeCosta said.
Such an arrangement makes bathrooms anything but accessible. DeCosta said he had to explain his whole life story and situation so access to the bathroom could even be considered.
“Anytime you are forced to out yourself where it is not your choice, or you have to talk about incredibly personal details of your life that are traumatizing and really damaging … and [have] to get documentation from a medical professional to document the need to use a bathroom, any bathroom, is too much work,” he said.
DeCosta said the sentiments in HB 2737 and SB 513 encourage people to be unkind those who do not align themselves with “who they think should be using that bathroom, especially [transgender] women.”
“That’s always how it is with anything in the trans community. People who don’t align with the cis-standard are going to be affected the most. But especially trans women – their safety is going to be put in a place that is so abysmal, that is just terrifying to think about,” DeCosta said. Cisgender refers to people whose sexual identity matches their biological sex.
Transgender women are already targeted at such alarmingly high rates, DeCosta said, that the reality of the idea of a trans women having to use a men’s restroom in order to comply with the law is incredibly dangerous.
“[These bills] are essentially telling trans women that it’s okay if anything happens to them,” DeCosta said.
Former University of Kansas student Leah Albee has argued that the he/she dichotomy in society isn’t necessary. Albee does not identify as male or female.
“The binary isn’t real, and all restrooms should be gender-neutral, period. You can’t tell what a person’s gender is by looking at them,” Albee said.
Albee said if there are no gender-neutral restrooms available, transgender students would have to decide whether to leave campus every time they need to use the restroom or be in fear for their safety.
“That’s if you can leave, if you can’t you’re forced to make the choice between harming your body by not going to the restroom when you need to or threaten your safety,” Albee said.
If any citizens are concerned about the future of bills like this being introduced into politics in Kansas, Witt encourages them to contact Equality Kansas to learn about how to get involved.
“[Equality Kansas] is the only LGBT+ organization in the state that works on these issues directly at the statehouse,” Witt said.
To learn more about Equality Kansas, visit the website: http://equalitykansas.com/
Edited by Leah Sitz