Arkansas became the fourth state to ban transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity on Tuesday after Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the bill into law.
The new legislation will prohibit students at charter and public schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade from using multiple-occupancy bathrooms that differ from their assigned sex at birth. The provision also applies to shared spaces, including locker rooms and other places where students “may be in various stages of undress.”
It comes amid an influx of anti-trans bills being considered around the nation, with reports of at least seven states introducing similar bills. Legislators in Idaho and Iowa, for instance, are awaiting the governor’s signature to approve a similar bathroom measure.
Anti-trans bathroom laws already exist in Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma, though lawsuits have been filed against two of these states, arguing that the provision violates their constitutional rights and Title IX protections, which prohibits sex-based discrimination at federally funded schools.
“The Governor has said she will sign laws that focus on protecting and educating our kids, not indoctrinating them and believes our schools are no place for the radical left’s woke agenda,” Alexa Henning, Sanders’ spokesperson, said in a statement to the Associated Press.”Arkansas isn’t going to rewrite the rules of biology just to please a handful of far-left advocates.”
What is included in the new law?
Outside of prohibiting trans students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, the new legislation also requires schools to provide accommodations for transgender students through measures like single-person restrooms, though there has been no allocation of funding for this.
“The Arkansas politicians who voted for this bill should be ashamed of themselves,” said Human Rights Campaign Arkansas State Director Eric Reece, when the bill first passed the House on Feb. 1. “The only thing it will accomplish is to demonize trans kids, make them feel less safe at school, and make their lives even harder than they already are. Schools should be safe and welcoming places for all kids.”
Superintendents, principals and teachers face a fine of at least $1,000 if they violate the law. Parents would also have the chance to file a private lawsuit if the law is not followed.
Arkansas’ bathroom law will go into effect by July, three months after the end of the current legislative session.
A resurgence of bathroom bills
Much of the discourse around bathroom bills, and other forms of anti-trans legislation, like gender affirming care bans, comes after years of advocacy from the queer community for basic privacy and human rights.
The first bathroom bill to become a law, House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, was passed in North Carolina in 2016. At the time, numerous states had considered similar bills, but North Carolina was the only one that made it into law.
The bill received extensive backlash from businesses like Adidas, PayPal and Lionsgate—which would see the state lose nearly $4 billion. As a result, legislators later passed House Bill 142 in 2017. House Bill 142 prohibited North Carolina from enacting a law that would force transgender people to use a bathroom that differs from their gender identity in state government buildings without the General Assembly’s approval, according to the New York Times. It also barred local governments from passing any new anti-discrimination measures, though that aspect of the law ended in Dec. 2020.
The Human Rights Campaign reports that more than 25 bathroom bills have been filed this year across the U.S., though many have died out.
Advocates say these attacks are part of an ongoing attack against the trans community for their mere existence.
“I think a lot of these bills are happening because the trans community envisions a world that’s different from what they want,” said Devon Ojeda, the Senior National organizer for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “[They are] forcing us into binary boxes that they assume were assigned to us at birth and it’s just all about control.”
What other anti-LGBTQ laws has Arkansas passed?
This law builds on a number of other provisions in the state.
Arkansas legislators recently voted to pass a bill that was originally meant to ban drag shows in public spaces, though later amendments to Senate Bill 43 redacted that language from the bill, and instead banned “adult-oriented” performances.
The state, which was also the first to attempt to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth in 2021, also recently signed into law a provision that would make it easier to sue medical practitioners who provide gender-affirming care for minors. The state’s original gender-affirming care ban that was set to go into effect in July 2021, however, remains under question. A federal judge previously blocked that ban, and plaintiffs are still awaiting a decision on whether that law will be struck down.
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