*Names changed to protect identity
Kansas House representative John Whitmer proposed a bill that will require students to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate on Jan. 26. If this bill – HB 2171 – passes, it will go into effect July 1. Just nine months ago, a similar bill was proposed to the Kansas Congress with the same requirements but was voted against on April 27.
Whitmer drafted the new bill in response to a petition signed by 1500 parents in the Derby School District last year in which parents expressed concern with students using the bathroom of their choosing. These parents think students should have to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Transgender sophomore Lucas Nye* is disheartened to see another bill of this kind after the last one was shot down less than a year ago. He believes the reason the last bill failed to pass was because of intolerance toward the transgender community.
“Even when bigotry is shot down, people don’t learn,” Nye said. “. . . It makes us [transgender students] more afraid that it is happening again because it never seems to stop. We are constantly in danger even when we just got out of it.”
Nye says he’s been “yelled out” of both the men’s and women’s restrooms before, and wishes that he could use the restroom he felt most comfortable in without having to worry about laws and violence. He currently uses the women’s restroom – the bathroom of his birth gender – because he fears we would be in danger surrounded by people who are bigger than him in the men’s room.
Last year’s bill included a $2500 compensation by the district for students who find someone in the bathroom who isn’t biologically the gender of the bathroom they’re using, which is not a part of the new bill. Additionally, the new bill requires accommodations – most likely gender neutral bathrooms according to Whitmer – for transgender students, which would be decided upon at the district level.
“We’re leaving a lot of the discretion up to the district,” Whitmer said. “How they want to handle the other accommodations, whether they want to do a gender neutral bathroom or they want to do a separate bathroom, whether they want to use the nurse’s office or teacher’s lounge, it doesn’t matter.”
Nye* feels like the bill is unfair to transgender students, even with the accommodations. He thinks that requiring “special bathrooms” will only strengthen the stigma that transgender students cannot coexist with cisgender students – people who identify as their biological gender.
“The bias is dangerous because it still puts us in ‘the other’,” Nye said. “It makes us seems like we are the ones needing accommodations when all we need to do is pee . . . We need the systematic barriers to be put in place so we don’t require accommodations.”
Director of Secondary Services in the SMSD, Joe Gilhaus, said the SMSD follows the guidelines that students are supposed to use the bathroom of their biological gender. There are already gender-neutral bathrooms in the schools, like the library restrooms at East, that could serve as accommodations for transgender students. If there were to be issue, Gilhaus said he would have a meeting with the family, the student and an administrator to come to a solution.
“We identify which restrooms that students are going to use,” Gilhaus said. “We identify where students are going to change at to make them feel comfortable, and we set a plan in place to help them be successful in school.”
Freshman Alex Rutiaga thinks this bill is a good idea, because he would be uncomfortable if someone who wasn’t biologically male were to use the men’s restroom.
“If she doesn’t have the body parts it would just be awkward seeing her in there,” Rutiaga said. “. . . If they don’t know what [bathroom] to go in, they can just go in [the gender neutral bathroom].”
In an email survey of 647 East students, 43 percent of responders said they did not believe students should be required to use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate, whereas 41 percent said that they should. The separation was 15 votes.
Because the issue is so divisive, some students, including junior Ian Schutt, believe gender-neutral bathrooms are the best solution. While Schutt thinks students should be allowed to use the restroom of whatever gender they identify with, he thinks this is a good compromise.
“A gender neutral bathroom leaves open choice for people who feel pressure [on which bathroom to use] in the moment,” Schutt said. “It takes the stress away.”
Whitmer agrees that this bill is a compromise between the far left and far right. He views the required accommodations as a reasonable way to meet in the middle.
“They say when you’re trying to craft compromise legislation . . . if both sides are not getting everything they want, that means you’ve come up with compromise,” Whitmer said. “. . . You have to take care of all students and you have to be sensitive to the privacy and the dignity of all of the children, and that’s the primary concern here.”