US state bans transgender people from using toilet in public schools that matches their gender identity

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP)
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP)

Arkansas’ Governor has signed legislation banning transgender people at state schools from using the toilet that matches their gender identity.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ spokesperson said the US state wasn’t going to “rewrite the rules of biology just to please a handful of far-left advocates” and said schools are no place for “the radical left’s woke agenda”.

It’s the first of several US states expected to enforce the ban this year, amid a raft of bills nationwide targeting the trans community.

Arkansas is already the fourth state to place restrictions at public schools, while bills in Idaho and Iowa await governor’s signatures.

The bill applies to multi-person bathrooms and locker rooms at public schoools and charter schools for nursery children through to their final year at secondary school.

The bill was approved by a Republican-majority Legislature last week.

“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 said in a statement.

“Arkansas isn’t going to rewrite the rules of biology just to please a handful of far-left advocates.”

Similar laws have been enacted in Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee, although lawsuits have been filed challenging the Oklahoma and Tennessee restrictions.

Proposals to restrict transgender people using the toilet of their choice have seen a resurgence this year, six years after North Carolina repealed its bathroom law in the wake of widespread protests and boycotts.

More than two dozen bathroom bills have been filed in 17 states, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“They’re singling out transgender people for no other reason than dislike, disapproval and misunderstanding of who transgender youth are,” said Paul Castillo, senior counsel and students’ rights strategist for Lambda Legal.

“And the entire school population suffers as a result of these types of bills, particularly schools and teachers and administrators who are dealing with real problems and need to focus on creating a welcome environment for every student.”

Another bill pending in Arkansas goes even further by imposing criminal penalties. That proposal would allow someone to be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child if they use a public bathroom or changing room of the opposite sex when a minor is present.

“It’s a flagrant message from them that they refuse to respect (transgender people’s) rights and humanity, to respect Arkansans’ rights and humanity,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas.

The new Arkansas law requires schools to provide reasonable accommodations, including single-person restrooms.

Superintendents, principals and teachers who violate the ban could face fines of at least US$1,000 (£812) from a state panel, and parents could also file private lawsuits to enforce the measure.

“Each child in our schools has a right to privacy and to feel safe and to feel comfortable in the bathroom they need to go to,” Republican Mary Bentley, the bill’s sponsor, told lawmakers earlier this year.

But Clayton Crockett, the father of a transgender child, described to lawmakers earlier this year how a similar policy adopted at his daughter’s school made her feel further marginalised.

“She feels targeted, she feels discriminated against, she feels bullied, she feels singled out,” Mr Crockett said at a House panel hearing on the bill in January.

Opponents have also complained the legislation doesn’t provide funding for schools that may need to build single-person bathrooms to provide reasonable accommodations.

The Arkansas measure won’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns this year’s session, which isn’t expected to happen until April at the earliest.

Governor Sanders signed the bill a week after she approved legislation making it easier to sue providers of gender-affirming care to minors.

That law, which also doesn’t take effect until this summer, is an effort to effectively reinstate a ban on such care for minors that’s been blocked by a federal judge.