February 22, 2016

GOP Should Flush Kremer’s Transphobic Bathroom Bill, Once and For All

Maybe Rep. Jesse Kremer Should Be Focusing His “Time” in the Next Legislative Session on Priorities More Important Than Shaming Transgender Students

After fervent protests and a pyrotechnic public hearing, the Wisconsin legislative Republican majority has put on hold a proposal to ban transgender students from using the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender of which they identify.

Unfortunately, that won’t be the last we hear of this discriminatory and mean-spirit legislation, as the bill’s main proponent, Representative Jesse Kremer (R–Kewaskum), told a newspaper Sunday, “I’m going to try to bring it up again.”

During the heated debate on the legislation, Kremer repeatedly touted the “reasonable accommodations” that the bill made for transgender students as proof that it isn’t discriminatory. Kremer’s claim is not only false, but his attempts at appeasement would actually put an already at-risk group of students in even more danger.

The accommodations made in the bill allow transgender students to use specially designated single occupancy or faculty restrooms with a parent’s permission. At a cursory glance, this may seem fine. However, to those familiar with the unique issues faced by transgender students, its problems are myriad.

Transgender students experience staggering levels of bullying and harassment in school. A study of transgender and gender nonconforming students found that 78% are harassed due to their gender identity, and that they are 25 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, 41% as opposed to 1.6%. It seems prudent to keep these statistics in mind when examining the effects of Kremer’s attempt at appeasement.

In order to even have access to the separate-but-equal facilities that the bill seeks to provide, students must receive written permission from their parents or guardians. Right out of the gate, transgender students are forced to take an incredibly personal and potentially humiliating request to parents or guardians. Not only could their request be denied outright, but this could open students up to a whole new realm of harassment and rejection by potentially transphobic parents. The difficulty in coming out as trans to one’s family is difficult to even imagine, and making it a prerequisite to using the bill’s special restrooms is nothing short of cruel.

If students do gain access to these facilities, the likelihood of them being harassed will increase dramatically. Requests to use the specially designated restrooms are supposed to be confidential, but this is true only on paper. How confidential can they actually be when students are made to use a specially designated restroom, or one in a faculty lounge, especially if it’s on a daily basis? By legally making transgender students into an other rather than simply allowing them access to traditional restrooms, this bill dramatically increases the likelihood that transgender students will be singled out for harassment or bullying, by students or even by their teachers and administration. When you take into account the fact that 59% of trans students who reported being bullied by teachers attempted suicide, the danger this provision places them in is obvious.

Should a school choose not to provide the separate-but-equal restrooms, students can request that their parents or guardians file a written report with the school board, who are then obliged to conduct an investigation. Yet, if a school refuses to meet the meager accommodations required by Kremer’s bill, it is fair to assume that they are not exactly friendly to transgender students. Asking those students to then subject their school to an investigation and force action on their part would be tantamount to drawing a bullseye on their back, inviting more of the kind of harassment that causes such elevated rates of suicide among transgender students.

Representative Kremer’s ideas of reasonable accommodation turn the very personal decision that transgender students face, regarding restroom and locker room use, into a multi-tiered spectacle. When this is considered alongside the heightened degree of bullying and harassment that transgender students already endure, it’s clear that Kremer’s attempt at compromise is nothing of the sort, and will do far more harm than good.

Without the aegis of his supposed accommodations, Kremer’s bill should be seen for what it is: a clear attempt to discriminate against transgender students.

When he put the bill on hold, Kremer said “we just didn’t have the time” to get this legislation passed, and he’s right. Wisconsin’s finances are in turmoil, our job creation is the worst in the midwest, and we have yet to take meaningful action on student loan debt. Given that all of these issues can be traced to the failed policies of Kremer’s Republican-led legislature, maybe he should be focusing his “time” in the next legislative session on priorities more important than shaming transgender students.

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Brian Evans graduated from UW-Madison in 2015 with degrees in sociology and political science and is currently an intern at One Wisconsin Now & the Institute.

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