Metro Weekly

Arizona Republican introduces three bills targeting transgender and nonbinary people

John Fillmore's bills challenge any recognition of transgender individuals' gender identity by schools or government

transgender, arizona, john fillmore
Arizona State Rep. John Fillmore – Photo: Facebook.

An Arizona Republican has introduced a trio of bills that specifically target transgender youth, including one measure that would penalize schools that attempt to acknowledge the gender identity of transgender students.

State Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache Junction), the vice-chairman of the Education Committee in the Arizona House of Representatives, is pushing the three bills.

The most egregious one of the trio, perhaps, is HB 2082, a proposed law that would “gag” school districts by preventing them from requiring superintendents, administrators, and teachers to refer to transgender students using pronouns that do not match the gender listed on their birth certificate.

School districts would also be prevented from “penalizing,” or, in effect, taking any action to discipline a school employee who refuses to acknowledge a transgender student’s gender identity, reports the Tucson Sentinel.

The bill appears to be inspired by two incidents in two separate states where teachers were penalized because of their refusal to acknowledge transgender students’ gender identity.

In West Point, Va., French teacher Peter Vlaming, was fired for insubordination when, despite being ordered to by his superiors, he refused to refer to a student using male pronouns.

Vlaming argued that doing so was contrary to his religious beliefs on human sexuality and gender being fixed at birth.

Similarly, Annella Krom, an art teacher at the Erie campus of Arizona College Preparatory in Chandler, Ariz., was fired after it was alleged that she failed a transgender student on an assignment after the student proposed an art project focusing on their personal journey and understanding of their gender identity.

Another transgender student claimed that Krom refused to refer to them by their preferred pronouns. Krom was also accused of lowering a third student’s grade after the student revealed she was an atheist, and of proselytizing to other students by encouraging them to embrace the teachings of her Christian faith.

LGBTQ advocates argue that HB 2082 will simply make school environments more difficult for transgender children who may already feel marginalized because of their gender identity. 

“This bill will only exacerbate the already hostile climate we already have,” Madelaine Adelman, a co-founder of the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, a pro-LGBTQ educational advocacy group, told the Sentinel. “The lack of safe educational learning environments is setting them up for failure.”

Related: New Hampshire will allow a nonbinary gender option on state licenses 

Chris Kotterman, the director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Board Association, says his organization hasn’t taken a stance on the bill, but noted that there haven’t been enough incidents to indicate that this is an issue of widespread concern in Arizona.

Kotterman said individual schools are equipped to handle the issue of recognizing a student’s gender identity on a “case-by-case basis.”

Fillmore has introduced two other bills that go beyond whether schools recognize the gender identity of minors and attack the broader concept of recognizing transgender identity at all.

One would require birth certificates in Arizona to include a binary gender marker indicating whether they are male or female, based on their biological sex at birth — something not currently required by state law.

The other measure would require any official document issued by any agency, board, commission, or state entity to recognize a person’s gender as either male or female.

That goes against a trend seen in other states where some government entities are beginning to offer ID cards or other vital documents that recognize a third, gender-neutral option for people who identify as nonbinary or intersex.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 32% of Arizona transgender residents say that they were harassed or assaulted when their physical appearance did not match the gender listed on their ID.

Many advocates point to that statistic as problematic, arguing that requiring state documents to be binary and based on an individual’s assigned sex at birth will simply exacerbate the troubles that transgender and nonbinary people face when they seek services from the state.

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