Oklahoma poised to limit use of school bathrooms based on sex at student's birth

·4 min read

OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill to limit bathroom use by biological sex in Oklahoma's public schools is headed to the governor's desk, following passage by both the state House and Senate last week.

Senate Bill 615 would require schools to enforce a policy that mandates shared restrooms be exclusive to the male sex or female sex. Students would be required to use the restroom that coincides with the gender on their birth certificate. 

Arguments in favor of the highly partisan bill centered on avoiding rape in school restrooms and that most students uphold traditional gender norms.

While Republicans called the bill a common-sense measure, Democrats argued that it is fearmongering for a nonexistent issue that creates a separate but equal situation.

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"It's about safety, it's about protection and it's about common sense," said state Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, the House author. "We've got things turned upside down and backwards."

Under the bill coauthored by 45 Republicans across the Legislature, schools will be required to provide "reasonable accommodation" via a single occupancy restroom for nonbinary or transgender students.

The bill passed along party lines in both chambers and now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Democrats rail against bill, but lack votes to prevent passage

"The party of small government has become the party of intrusion," said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Oklahoma City. "It's despicable."

"If they (nonconforming people) have to move out of this state to save their own lives, please do it," she added.

Impassioned arguments came from both sides of the aisle, as Republicans conveyed a fear that female students could be in danger if bathroom use is not limited by biological sex.

Democrats focused on sharing personal experiences and stories about gender.

Rep. Emily Virgin speaks during the Bans Off Oklahoma Rally on the steps on Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April, 5, 2022.
Rep. Emily Virgin speaks during the Bans Off Oklahoma Rally on the steps on Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April, 5, 2022.

"We take care of us time and time again, when this body continues to try to deny our rights, and our access to bodily autonomy," said Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, the nation's first nonbinary legislator. "Our liberation will not be bound in the laws that come out of his body. But they will be bound in how we show up for one another."

More: Debate over transgender bathroom policy draws divide in Stillwater

Stillwater rule sparked debate that produced bathroom bill

The bathroom bill was brought forward this session in response to a public outcry over a six-year-old Stillwater Public Schools policy allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

In April, state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister asked Attorney General John O'Connor to provide clarity as to whether schools have the authority to determine their own restroom policies.

In response, O'Connor asked the Legislature to pass legislation requiring bathroom use be determined by biological sex, not gender identity.

Democratic Rep. Trish Ranson represents Stillwater and said the legislation is not an accurate depiction of transgender children or a change desired in her district.

"They don't want to do anything malicious to anyone," she said. "They just want to belong. And quite honestly, they just want to go to the bathroom."

If SB 615 is approved, school districts would be able to draft their own punitive measures for those found in violation of the law. Language in the bill also dictates that no school policy is allowed to go against the legislation.

More: ‘These are beautiful children’: Parents of transgender kids worry about future in Oklahoma

Districts that don't comply with the legislation could see a 5% decrease in state funding as a result of noncompliance.

"We've tried in this bill to protect everybody's rights. We've said boys go to the boys room, girls go to the girls room, and if you are confused some way or the other, we'll have an another assigned facility for you," Williams said. "But we're saying you cannot go in and take advantage of our girls in our school system — it is totally unacceptable."

Oklahoma is not the first state to attempt to enact such legislation. In 2016, North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders passed the “bathroom bill” and its 2017 replacement, spurred by furor and wave of boycotts.

The 2016 law, also known as H.B.2, required transgender people to use restrooms matching their birth certificates in state government buildings and other publicly owned structures including highway rest stops.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma passes bill limiting school bathroom use to sex at birth