Metro Weekly

Oklahoma Governor Signs School Bathroom Ban into Law

New law requires people to use only shared public facilities that match the gender listed on their original birth certificate.

Public bathroom – Photo: Juan Marin, via Unsplash.

An Oklahoma bill that restricts transgender students to only using school facilities that match their gender identity is now law.

Last week, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is on record as opposing any recognition of transgender and nonbinary identity, signed a bill enshrining the restriction into law. An emergency provision in the bill caused it to take effect with Stitt’s signature.

“Governor Stitt believe girls should use girl restrooms and boys should use boy restrooms,” Stitt’s spokesperson, Carly Atchison, said in a statement.

Under the bill, all public school restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms and shower rooms are to be designated for exclusive use by either males or females. Individuals may only use those facilities based on the gender marker listed on their original birth certificate.

The law also requires schools to offer single-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms for those who don’t want to use the facility that matches their assigned sex at birth.

School districts and charter schools that fail to comply with the restrictions on transgender users could face a 5% deduction in their state funding — which could range anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the school system, reports The Oklahoman.

Under law, parents and legal guardians would be allowed to sue if their children’s public school fails to comply with the law.

The legislation was passed in response to a policy, adopted six years ago, by Stillwater Public Schools that allowed students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. No incidents of misbehavior were reported for as long as the policy was in place, but recent rhetoric over transgender “ideology” and “wokeness” — driven by right-wing media and politicians — prompted outrage among parents and community members, as well as Republican politicians, who argued the policy placed cisgender girls at risk of sexual abuse or harassment.

Education Secretary Ryan Walters, now running as one of several GOP candidates for the position of state schools superintendent, has long opposed making accommodations for trans students based on their gender identity, calling it a product of the “woke agenda.”

“Biological males should not receive unrestricted access to women’s restrooms, leaving our young girls uncomfortable and afraid to enter them during school,” Walters wrote in a letter to Stillwater Public Schools.

Stitt previously signed a bill into law earlier this year barring transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching they gender identity, and issued an executive order prohibiting the Oklahoma Department of Health from issuing birth certificates with nonbinary or gender-neutral markers.

LGBTQ advocates have warned that the law could cause transgender children to question their own safety using the bathroom at school, and may even be a violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in school settings. The U.S. Supreme Court has thus far declined to weigh in on the issue, allowing a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm — finding a similar bathroom ban violated his constitutional rights — to stand.

A January poll from The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, found that 85% of transgender youths say that recent debates over bills restricting transgender rights have had a negative impact on their mental health.

Nicole McAfee, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, called the bathroom ban “the most dangerous policy that has advanced” this year.

“Let us be clear: not only does this policy make trans students unsafe, it creates a hostile, unsafe environment for all students,” McAfee said in a statement. “This policy requires trans students to be regularly outed at school, to possibly unsafe contacts, targeting their ability to continue using the bathroom as needed, relegating them to either separate facilities or creating scenarios where trans girls may be forced to use a bathroom with boys and trans boys forced to use a bathroom with girls.

“There is no question this bill is unconstitutional. It is absolutely a violation of Title IX. We know it could very well create Title II violations at districts across the state,” McAfee added. “Ultimately, it will cost the state hundreds of millions in business dollars, unimaginable costs in litigation and attorney fees, further brain drain as educators, school administrators, and school counselors refuse to be complicit in this harm, and very likely the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our state whose ability to imagine a future for themselves is erased by political grandstanding that furthers misinformation, fear, and hate about who they are.”

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