To the Nevada State Senate:
Though Senate Bill 225 may have been introduced with the best of intentions, I must urge the Senate not to pass it, for three significant reasons.
- It could lead to an unsafe environment where predators may operate.
The mother of a transgender student (and a major proponent of this bill) was recently interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun about the “bullying” her child had been subjected to at school. It boiled down to not being allowed in the opposite gender’s locker room (https://lasvegassun.com/news/2017/mar/22/parents-lawmakers-want-anti-bullying-law-at-privat/). It appears, then, that this is the kind of situation SB 225 is meant to rectify (Section 6.3 of the bill, for example, can be read this way).
In March 2017, Kristen Quintrall, who describes herself as “pretty progressive and tolerant,” was at Disneyland with her young son and reported seeing an aggressive man in the women’s restroom, ogling them. This was not a transgender person—it was a man taking advantage of the current policies there about transgender people to create a hostile and dangerous situation for women. (http://www.thegetrealmom.com/blog/womensrestroom)
There have been many recent incidents of women being assaulted in public restrooms, particularly at Target, which has promoted itself as a bastion of “non-discrimination” regarding gender and its bathrooms (http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF16F27.pdf).
Surely, Nevada does not want to create unsafe spaces for women and girls, much less open itself to the legal liability which will ensue from policies that set up the circumstances under which such tragedies could occur in the first place.
Please note that this objection has nothing to do with transgender people themselves. In the interest of serving their wants, we would also be creating a serious problem for many others. If this bill passes and leads to universally open locker rooms and bathrooms, heterosexual predators will abuse this policy and innocent women will suffer. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and ignore that.
- It could restrict freedoms of speech and conscience.
Section 12.1 (e) of the bill requires schools to “Establish a program of training for school district and school personnel concerning the needs of persons with diverse gender identities or expressions.” What those “needs” are isn’t explained, and this is disconcerting. Vague language in a bill is always troubling. What needs could there be that are different from those basic civil rights guaranteed to all?
In the absence of other details, it seems that access to opposite gender facilities like locker rooms and restrooms constitutes the “needs of persons with diverse gender identities or expressions” which must be met, and which only returns us to the dangers explained in the first objection.
What training will ensure that these “needs” are met? The answer, seemingly, might be that some set of directives will be enjoined on students and staff to facilitate comfort, which could amount to formal or informal speech codes. (Such codes are always controversial and are often struck down by courts: https://www.thefire.org/spotlight-on-speech-codes-2016/. Even the ACLU agrees that speech mandates are not a good or legal way to handle bullying: https://www.aclu.org/other/hate-speech-campus.)
For example, this bill could be interpreted as requiring other students and school personnel to address transgender students by pronouns and proper names of their own choosing, which could infringe upon the beliefs of those students and staff. Enshrining the vocabulary preferences of any person or group in law, in a way that legally forces others to publicly abide by them, is an affront to our constitutional guarantees to freedom of speech and belief.
In fact, the proposed legislation itself assures that “the Legislature is not advocating or requiring the acceptance of differing beliefs in a manner that would inhibit the freedom of expression” (Section 6.7, referencing NRS 388.132), which suggests an awareness that this precise situation is possible. The proposed revisions only make the risk of that problem higher. Surely, such a potentially dangerous (and, indeed, illegal) bill cannot be passed.
- It could violate constitutional rights to religious liberty.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order, went to the Supreme Court because the Affordable Care Act required them to violate their faith and subsidize contraception. In 2016, the Supreme Court overturned the rulings of a lower court against them, thus validating the order’s concern. This is not the only case of a private group suing the government and winning because the government tried to get them to comply with laws that infringed on their constitutional right to free exercise of religion (the Hobby Lobby case is another example).
SB 225 wants to enforce its view of anti-bullying training, specifically with transgender students in mind, on all private and charter schools (See Sections 6.2 and 9.1). Some of those schools are, or could be, founded on religious ideals that the agenda implicit in SB 225 would contradict. This is clearly and simply illegal, and in any conflict between SB 225 and such private ideals, SB 225 would lose.
In conclusion, again please note that none of these three objections are based on ill will towards transgender students—an individual could completely endorse the beliefs of the LGBT community and still recognize the veracity of the arguments laid out here.
Where there is genuine mistreatment of transgender students—or any students—laws and policies already exist to remedy it. New policies in favor of one group’s wants cannot ever come at the expense of limiting safety and removing constitutional rights from others.
Jamie J. Huston