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Bathroom bills bearing down on states across America

11 March 2016

By Claudia Skinner, Legislative Research Intern

Emerging onto the floor of numerous state legislatures across the United States of America is a new and divisive kind of legislation: “bathroom bills.” Bathroom bills are proposed legislation that address whether individuals may use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender they identify with or with the gender they were assigned at birth. The debate over this issue has proven to be intensely personal, with transgender students, community members, and activists vocalizing their experiences and needs, whilst parents and others express concerns for the well-being of their children and the safety of women.

The push and pull of this debate has not been without impact, as can be seen in the case of South Dakota. On Tuesday March 1st, Governor Dennis Daugaard decided to veto HB 1008, which otherwise would have been the first “bathroom bill” to become state law. HB 1008 would have prohibited South Dakota students from using school restrooms designated for the opposite biological sex, and would have required them to use alternative facilities provided by their school. The bill’s sponsor Fred Deutsch explained that the legislation’s “primary purpose (was to) protect the physical privacy” of transgender students. The House, comprising of 58 Republicans and 12 Democrats, had passed the bill with an overwhelming majority of 58-10, a decision that was welcomed by parents who expressed concerns for protecting their children.

However, the bill’s passage was also met with considerable resistance. Transgender teenagers met with Governor Daugaard to explain their opposition to the bill and LGBTQ groups and activists such as Laverne Cox called for its veto, arguing that the legislation was discriminatory. On February 24th, Cox urged her followers on Instagram to mobilize against the bill, arguing that it would target transgender students for “even more harassment and bullying.”  

Ultimately, the Governor explained his decision to veto the bill as owing to his belief that it would have taken autonomy away from local schools that are better equipped to make decisions that are appropriate for their locality. Daugaard’s veto remains in effect, with the South Dakota House’s attempt to override the veto failing to receive the two-thirds vote required, achieving a vote of only 36-29.

The state of Washington has also witnessed the failure of a “bathroom bill,” with SB 6443 narrowly defeated in a 24-25 vote. The bill would have nullified the Washington Human Rights Commission rule allowing transgender individuals to use bathrooms in public buildings that are consistent with their gender identity. Proponents of the bill have lamented that the bill’s failure leaves women unprotected, voicing concerns that sex offenders would use the rule to their advantage. The bill’s opponents instead view its failure as a victory for transgender civil rights, with one transgender woman having told the Senate that the bill’s passage would make it possible for anyone who doesn’t like her “to harass (her) when (she’s) using the restroom.”

This contentious issue is beginning to surface in other states also, with votes yet to come on Oklahoma SB 1323, Virginia HB 663, Indiana SB 35, and Tennessee HB 2414. These bills all propose the requirement that students must use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth. It is yet to be seen how these states will come down on this issue of how transgender rights should interact with the rights and values of others, but if recent events indicate anything, their decisions will not be easily accepted by either side of the debate.

Claudia Skinner recently graduated from the University of Sydney having completed a Bachelors Degree with a double major in American Studies and Government and International Relations. She is currently an intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.


Related tags: bathroom bills, blog, legislation

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