Privacy, safety and ethicality: Students react to transgender bathroom legislation

(Graphic by Zoe Schuemacher)

On April 27, the Kansas Senate overrode Governor Kelly’s veto of Senate Bill 180 which requires transgender people to use the restroom that aligns with their assigned sex at birth.

“Sadly, I wasn’t surprised just due to the fact that there are all these regulations going out,” Alex Rice, a transgender woman at Kansas State, said. “In my opinion it is the start of a slippery slope. It starts with one thing and goes to another.”

According to the ACLU, Senate Bill 180 is only one of 13 bills that target LGBTQ+ rights passing through the Kansas legislature. 

Sexuality and Gender Alliance [SAGA] President Julia Coverdale said they are concerned about the future of LGBTQ+ students on campus if these bills are made law.

“For me it was kind of ‘oh s—’ because I knew there was going to be anti-trans legislation proposed in this legislative session, but we’ve always been protected by Laura Kelly vetoing and the legislature not having enough people to override that veto,” Coverdale, senior in anthropology, said.

Choosing a bathroom to use is already difficult for many transgender people on campus, Rice, junior in kinesiology, said.

“For most people I’ve talked to who also identify as trans, they usually go to the bathroom that they pass the best [in], rather than the one they feel more comfortable with, just due to the fact that they feel the student presence would not be as supportive,” Rice said.

Rice said this is a controversial issue with many students at K-State.

“There’s a side where people are for the legislation and a side where people are not, but I have met people who are not part of either and are like ‘it doesn’t affect me,’” Rice said.

Chance Delaney, junior in architecture, said this is the case for him.

 “My moral standpoint would be that it doesn’t affect me, so I don’t really care,” Delaney said. “But from my major’s standpoint, just make every bathroom a single bathroom, and that solves the issue.”  

Delaney said he believes that legislation on this issue is pointless.

“If the government just left the issue alone, people would just sort it out themselves,” Delaney said. “You can legislate all you want, but people can only be controlled for so long.”

Amelia Hicks, a philosophy professor at K-State specializing in ethics, said the arguments in favor of the bill are mostly centered around legality.

“I haven’t seen any good-faith ethical arguments in favor of bathroom bills. … Instead, I’ve seen legal arguments appealing to the legal right to privacy,” Hicks said.

Christian Neises, senior in journalism, said he is in favor of the bill and shares this perspective on privacy.

“In the matter of intimate spaces like this, those two things [safety and privacy] do coincide,” Neises said. “People are never going to be more vulnerable than when you are using the restroom.”

Hicks said she believes the right to privacy argument is weak because it doesn’t consider the privacy of trans people.

“Transgender people have the same privacy rights as cisgender people,” Hicks said. “Plus, the right to privacy doesn’t entitle someone to only share bathrooms with people who are similar to themselves.”

Thomas Adcock, freshman in history, said he believes this issue is about public safety.

“To put a biological male in a restroom with biological women is hindering the safety of women in that case,” Adcock said.

Hicks said while many supporting the bill call on public safety, these arguments lack statistical backing.

“Sometimes arguments for bathroom bills appeal to public safety. … Those public safety arguments are entirely specious,” Hicks said. “I’m not aware of any real evidence that inclusive bathroom policies reduce public safety.”

Delaney said he also believes it’s unlikely transgender people using the bathroom of their choice will result in safety issues.

“There’s always a safety concern because there’s always crazy people,” Delaney said. “But 99% of people are going into the bathroom to use the bathroom, not do something weird.” 

Hicks said the ethical crux of the bill centers around the people who will be most affected by it.

“I often see ethical arguments against bathroom bills,” Hicks said. “Those arguments usually appeal to the harm caused by the bills.” 

Coverdale said they have already seen the negative effects the bill has had on mental health. 

“For SAGA, I see the severe impacts it has on mental health for our students,” Coverdale said. “I know so many students who couldn’t even get to classes because of this news.”

Neises said his perspective isn’t meant to come from a place of disrespect. 

“We absolutely disagree, and sometimes those disagreements become overheated, but it is not supposed to be out of a place of hatred,” Neises said.

Rice said this has not been her experience as she has encountered people who violently oppose her identity.

“I get times are changing and people are trying to be more inclusive, but for every one person that is trying to be inclusive, there’s five more people who are advocating for your death,” Rice said.

Rice said she wouldn’t have persisted through the criticism if she wasn’t certain of her identity.

“If I didn’t feel the way I do right now, do you think I would continue with my own identity?” Rice said. “I just want to live my own life to the best I can.”

As Senate Bill 180 and others become law, Coverdale said many students are left wondering how K-State will react.

“If these bills pass, what is K-State’s response going to be?” Coverdale said. “Unfortunately, I think that the university is more likely to take a politically neutral stance where they don’t comment on anything.”

When asked to comment, K-State said it is too early to speculate what changes may or may not be made until the bill is officially passed into law.