Student bathroom bill introduced in Illinois House bases access on sex at birth

Victoria Cabales, Reporter

A bill that would prevent transgender students from using the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with has been introduced to the Illinois House of Representatives, potentially compromising Evanston’s recent gender neutral bathroom ordinance if passed.

The bill, introduced by State Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) would prevent Illinois students from entering “private spaces,” including bathrooms, locker rooms and rooms used during overnight school trips, that are not designated for their legal gender.

The representative said he believes the bill is important because of the “anatomical differences” of students of different sexes. Bills similar to Morrison’s have been emerging throughout the country in states such as North Carolina and Tennessee.

“[The bill] will help school communities because it allows schools to provide privacy for all the students in the school building,” Morrison said. “As a representative, I hear from many constituents that they desire that privacy when they’re in those intimate, vulnerable spaces, such as restrooms and locker rooms.”

The bill also makes accommodations for single-occupancy restrooms and changing rooms upon request if students feel they do not identify with their anatomical sex.

“I believe that it is a reasonable and compassionate compromise,” Morrison said.

If passed, Morrison’s bill may alter efforts made by Evanston officials last year to make bathroom facilities in the city more welcoming to the LGBT community. In November, Evanston City Council passed an ordinance requiring gender neutral signage for public facilities and businesses in the city with only one single-occupancy bathroom. If there are three or more restrooms in a facility, at least one of them must be labeled as gender-neutral.

According to the ordinance, “‘each single stall restroom [should be] accessible to all gender identities.” In Chapter 21 of the Evanston Human Rights Ordinance, gender identity is defined as a person’s self-image, regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.

Mark Muenzer, Evanston’s community development director and LGBT liaison, said the city may have to amend the current ordinance if the bill is passed, which he said may have an adverse effect on transgender students.

“My belief is that it would impact [transgender students] negatively,” Muenzer said. “This is the very reason why the City Council passed the gender neutral restroom ordinance to ensure that transgender individuals are able to fulfill the sex they identify.”

Prof. Nick Davis, who teaches in Northwestern’s Gender & Sexuality Studies Department, called such laws “completely outrageous” and said the legislation stems from “sheer ignorance.”

“At the basic level of human dignity, I think that targeting transgender people in this way, and mapping the bill on pretty basic activities … is as dehumanizing as it gets,” Davis said.

Davis said bills limiting bathroom access only further complicate the lives of transgender students and obstruct progress toward acceptance and change. He also said many of the arguments made by proponents of such legislation are unfounded, such as the belief that allowing transgender women to use female restrooms puts other women at risk of sexual harassment.

“(The bill) further isolates students who shouldn’t be isolated,” he said.

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