A bill titled The Student Physical Privacy Act was introduced in the Kansas House and Senate on March 16. If passed, the bill would require transgender individuals to use only the public school and university restrooms according to their genetically assigned sex.
The bill, introduced by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, states, “Children and young adults have natural and normal concerns about physical privacy when they are in various states of undress, and most wish for members of the opposite sex not to be present in those circumstances.”
According to the bill, students who “encounter a person of the opposite sex” while using a restroom, locker room or shower room designated for those students’ sex, may sue the school for “(s)tatutory damages in an amount of $2,500.”
If the bill passes, it will have an impact on not only transgender students attending K-State, but also students and children statewide, Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said.
“Outing students that are transgender is a safety risk, but also psychological,” Witt said. “This is going to isolate transgender kids. It’s to going out them and put them in danger of harassment, bullying and potential injury.”
K-State currently does not have a restroom identity policy, which allows students to freely use campus restrooms in compliance with their gender identity, Angela Hubler, interim department head and associate professor of women’s studies, said. This could change, however, if the bill passes.
“If the bill is passed, I will not be enforcing it,” Hubler said. “What we know is that trans students are more likely than other students to be sexually assaulted, and so this will make them more vulnerable by outing them and forcing them to use bathrooms that are not appropriate, so I think that this bill is a problem.”
Riley Katz, senior in women’s studies, who identifies as a trans man, said in an email that his daily life and the daily lives of other transgender students will be negatively affected if this bill becomes law.
“If the only available option is to use the women’s room, I have to consider whether or not I am going to get yelled at, or worse: physically assaulted,” Katz said. “I have been stopped by someone’s boyfriend, prior to coming out publicly, about my transgender identity while trying to use a women’s restroom because they did not want a man in the restroom with their girlfriend. My birth certificate says female. When I use the men’s room, I have to be concerned with whether or not I appear ‘male’ enough because if I don’t, I run the risk of physical or sexual assault.”
Katz said that the passing of this bill could be in conflict with Title IX, a federal law that protects gender equality in public schools and universities.
“We’ve had different conversations about bills that tried to go through in other states, but everyone’s mind was blown that it started here in Kansas,” Katz said.
It is up to state leaders to make decisions that will lead to the demise of discrimination instead of the justification of it, Katz said.
“Bills like this are stopped by the common sense of people in office — people who look beyond the panic that someone isn’t like themselves — and see that this bill would do more harm than good,” Katz said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there are many of those people in the Kansas Legislature, nor the governor’s office, so I fear that this bill will quickly become law.”
The people of Kansas hold the power to speak out against this bill before it passes, Witt said.
“People should call their representatives and tell them this is a bad bill and vote no if it should come up,” Witt said.
Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said in an email that legislators must deal with “ridiculous kinds of legislations” every year, but this bill is worse than most.
The bill says the schools must take “reasonable steps” to prevent people from using facilities designed for use by the opposite sex.
“I have no idea how one could even determine what sex another person was born with,” Carlin said, “This is an unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation.”