Idaho Governor signs legislation limiting trans children’s access to school restrooms

(Photo by Jim Watson/Contributor via Getty Images)

The Republican Governor of Idaho, Brad Little, signed a bill this week that prohibits transgender students in the state from using public restrooms and facilities that do not align with their gender assigned at birth.

According to Senate Bill 1100, effective July 1st, public schools in Idaho must provide separate restrooms, changing spaces, showers, locker rooms, and sleeping quarters for its students. The bill does not apply to single-occupancy facilities. The legislation mandates reasonable modifications for students who may not feel comfortable using multi-occupancy facilities.

The bill contends that requiring students to use facilities designated for the opposite biological sex may lead to shame, psychological harm, and embarrassment.

Under the statute, students can sue schools for damages if they permit opposite-sex individuals to use those gendered amenities or fail to take “reasonable steps” to prevent such use. Successful private lawsuits may result in monetary compensation for psychological, emotional, or physical harm, and each instance where a student sees a person of the opposite sex using gendered facilities can merit $5,000 from the public school system.

Transgender rights defenders have been opposing bathroom laws for years, stating they are unnecessary and dehumanizing to transgender students.

Senator Rick Just (D-Idaho) noted to the press on Saturday that he did not vote for the bill as it encourages private lawsuits against school districts.

“I don’t believe it’s helpful to encourage citizens to seek damages whenever they feel aggrieved in the slightest way,” Just said.

The bill’s author, Republican State Representative Ted Hill (R-Idaho), asserted that the legislation will promote “peace” amongst schools, school boards, and families by allowing them to focus primarily on the education of students.

“The most important part of this legislation was to recognize the rights of everyone… Recognized the rights for young girls to be safe and secure in a place where they are most vulnerable, same for the boys to be safe and secure where they are most vulnerable, and the rights for everyone else to be safe, secure and comfortable in a place where they are most vulnerable,” Hill maintained.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in the US, criticized Governor Little after the bill was passed, declaring that, “LGBTQ+ people in Idaho deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and respect.”

“Unfortunately, the bills that Gov. Little is signing into law will make life harder on LGBTQ+ folks across the state…These bills will not accomplish anything other than to further alienate and stigmatize those already on the margins of life in this state,” said Cathryn Oakley, the HRC’s state legislative director and senior counsel.

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

According to the HRC, more “bathroom bills” have been filed in the US so far in 2023 than in any other year. Both Arkansas and Iowa have signed related legislation this week.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed a law earlier this week prohibiting transgender individuals from using restrooms not assigned to their birth certificate gender. Governor Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) also signed a bill banning transgender students from using restrooms that do not conform to their assigned gender at birth.

Transgender youth represent less than 2% of all high school students in the US. Medical professionals are cautioning that the type of legislation being promoted by Republicans likely further marginalizes transgender children, who are already victims of increased depression, anxiety, and suicide rates. The National Library of Medicine reports that 82% of transgender individuals have considered suicide and that 40% have already attempted it.

North Carolina initiated a similar policy in 2016, but the move incited a political conversation about which bathrooms transgender people should be allowed to use, leading to widespread disagreement, division, and eventually, the repeal of the policy after intense criticism from businesses and advocates.

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