MADISON, Wisconsin, November 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A bill to stop transgender students from using restrooms and other facilities of the opposite sex faced a contentious, hours-long hearing on Thursday.
But a spokesperson for the bill's sponsor in the state Senate says it is designed to protect children, and that the bill accounts for the struggles of transgender teenagers. And a state activist told LifeSiteNews that “this bill is a reasonable response to a complex problem.”
“It's clearly not an easy issue for public schools to deal with,” said Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action, who e-mailed LifeSiteNews during the hearing. “But to not address it means violating the privacy rights of students. All students have a right to privacy. Allowing biologic boys to use the girls' restroom and locker room and vice versa violates that right.”
On the other side of the issue, Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement that Nass's bill “belongs in the garbage” and that “AB 469 will place transgender and gender non-conforming students at risk for discrimination and harassment.”
In his testimony at the hearing, bill sponsor Steve Nass described Assembly Bill 469 as “a simple proposal with common sense provisions that establish a statewide standard to balance the interests of a diverse population of students and parents.”
The bill recognizes the sex of each student per what the child's stated anatomy is at birth, on a birth certificate, and “Insures that the privacy interests of students in all corners of the state are treated equally by prohibiting females from using changing rooms designated for males and males from using the changing rooms of females,” said Nass.
If a student “identifies as a member of the opposite sex” and a parent makes a request to use a different restroom or changing room, the bill “protects the ability of parents and students to seek reasonable accommodations from school boards for the use of single occupancy changing rooms by a student[.]”
Parents may file a complaint with their school's board if a school does not comply with these regulations.
According to Nass, his bill is “necessary to counter some of the existing school district policies that unfairly prioritize the wishes of transgender students and their parents over the privacy concerns of other students and their parents.” A number of schools have independently decided to “to promote the interests of transgender students in granting full access to the changing rooms of the opposite sex,” said Nass, who pointed to how “some public school officials will claim their local policies prioritizing the interests of transgender students are mandated by federal law.”
The claims of federal mandates come from the Obama administration, which in 2014 created a new definition of sex discrimination under the 1972 Title IX. The administration has threatened to pull funding from schools that don't capitulate to transgender activists on opposite-sex restroom access.
The administration has involved itself in the Wisconsin case, filing a friend of the court brief restating its position. However, in a letter to officials in Palatine, Illinois – who are under the same attack from the Obama administration – leading conservative lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Thomas More Society argued that the administration's interpretation of Title IX has no legal basis.
In June, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney Jeremy Tedesco told LifeSiteNews the same thing. “A federal court in Pennsylvania recently rejected a similar lawsuit filed by a transgender student seeking access to restrooms at a college,” said Tedesco, “ruling that 'separating students by sex based on biological considerations … for restroom and locker room use simply does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.'”
“The court rejected the Title IX claim for the same reason. It also highlighted that Title IX’s implementing regulations state that schools do not violate Title IX when they 'provide separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex.'”
“Every court to consider this issue has held that single-sex restrooms and locker room facilities are permitted under Title IX,” said Tedesco.
The ADF attorney also said that the change to Title IX “is not legally binding” and was “politically motivated.”
Nass said his bill is necessary to protect “bodily privacy” across the state. “I am certain you will hear arguments opposed to AB 469 based on local control and the need to let school boards decide policies in each district based on community values,” he told the Education Committee. “How is it that a student in Superior or Dodgeville or New Berlin or Green Bay can have a differing right to bodily privacy? This legislature has repeatedly recognized the right of bodily privacy for adults and children with the passage of statutes in recent years relating to upskirting, the unauthorized use of nude or partially nude pictures on social media, and the prohibition on the use of cell phones with cameras in school locker rooms.”
Nass's chief of staff, Mike Mikalsen, told LifeSiteNews that the senator's goal with Assembly Bill 469 is to protect student rights to privacy – which Nass cited in his testimony – but also the right to avoid sexual harassment and to keep students out of the political aspects of the transgender “rights” fight.
“Under some of our school districts' policies, those parents and those students [who complain about use of opposite-sex bathrooms] would be asked to meet with a counselor so it could be explained to them why their position is wrong,” said Mikalsen.He also said that children who complain, or children of parents who complain, are sometimes told to use a unisex bathroom as punishment for speaking up.
“It does have the impact of sending a message: If you open your mouth and complain, these policies can be [inaudible] against your kid.”
“In no other area of school law do you allow the students to run the ship,” said Mikalsen, noting that school administrators and boards typically make policies – but “in this case, you literally can have a transgender student … come in and tell a school board, 'I don't care what you want. I'm telling you, this is how you're going to run your district.'”
Nass also said that small numbers of students are likely to abuse the ability to use opposite-sex facilities, something the bill is designed to prevent.