Metro Weekly

Sarah Huckabee Sanders Signs Arkansas Trans Bathroom Ban

Law restricts trans students' restroom use, and may serve as prelude to law prosecuting trans adults for using bathrooms when children are present.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders – Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr; School Bathroom – Photo: Fedecandoniphoto, via Dreamstime.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has signed a law prohibiting transgender youth at public schools from using bathroom facilities that match their gender identity.

The new law, which takes effect 90 days following the end of this year’s legislative session, makes Arkansas the fourth state — following Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — to impose restrictions on transgender students’ bathroom use at public schools.

The law applies to multi-user restrooms and locker rooms serving students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Schools found in violation of the law could be fined up to $1,000 per offense, and the law empowers parents to file private lawsuits if they believe their child has shared a facility with a transgender youth or the school has failed to enforce strict rules ensuring restrooms remain segregated based on biological sex, reports ABC News.

“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, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement. “Arkansas isn’t going to rewrite the rules of biology just to please a handful of far-left advocates.”

Under the Arkansas law, schools may choose to provide single-stall bathrooms to transgender students who do not wish to use facilities matching their assigned sex at birth.

However, critics argue that some schools may not have the space or funding to create single-stall facilities, and the law doesn’t provide any additional funding that would allow those schools to make such renovations.

While so-called “bathroom bills” like the one signed by Sanders had dwindled immediately following the backlash that North Carolina experienced in 2016 after it passed a law prohibiting transgender people from using gender-affirming facilities, Republicans in nearly every state have seized upon discomfort with gender-nonconformity as a political wedge issue over the past three years.

Armed with an issue that not only plays to their conservative religious base, but which they believe can sway even Democratic-leaning constituencies, Republican lawmakers have proposed or passed laws targeting the transgender community.

Such bills include banning gender-affirming care for minors, banning transgender athletes from competing in female-designated sports, and banning public displays of drag — or requiring businesses that host drag performances to register as “adult-oriented” businesses — all in the name of protecting children. 

Additionally, Republicans in 17 different states have filed more than two dozen bills seeking to restrict transgender students from using facilities matching their gender identity.

“They’re singling out transgender people for no other reason than dislike, disapproval and misunderstanding of who transgender youth are,” Paul Castillo, senior counsel and students’ rights strategist for Lambda Legal, said of the trends being seen in Republican-run states. “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.”

While the 4th and 7th Circuit Courts of Appeal have upheld the right of transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Florida school district’s policy prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that match their gender identity. Arkansas is covered by none of those three circuit courts, leaving uncertainty about whether a legal challenge to the new law would be successful, and likely leading to a legal fight that could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As governor, Sanders has shown she is all too eager to sign bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

Last week, she signed legislation making it easier for minors and their parents to sue medical providers who recommend gender-affirming treatments. That law is an attempt to reinstate a statewide ban on gender-affirming care, which passed in 2021 but has since been blocked by a federal judge.

Sanders also recently signed an education bill prohibiting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation before 5th grade that mirrors Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

Arkansas lawmakers are currently pushing for a bill that would go further than North Carolina’s infamous HB 2 law by charging transgender adults with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child — which could require them to register as sex offenders — if they use a public bathroom or changing room that does not match their assigned sex at birth when a minor is present.

That bill’s sponsor, State Sen. John Payton (R-Wilburn), has argued that the measure is narrowly crafted because it would only prevent transgender individuals from using gender-affirming facilities when children are present, not all the time.

The bill was approved narrowly by the State Senate earlier this month.

But Sen. Joshua Bryant (R-Rogers), the sole Republican to vote against the bill — although several others did not vote — argued at the time it passed that the measure would allow a transgender person, even one who has transitioned and undergone gender confirmation surgery, to be prosecuted regardless of their intent, or whether a minor was actually present at the time of the offense, reports The Associated Press

Sarah Everett, the policy director with the America Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, called the proposed law “the most extreme bathroom ban in the country,” according to the Arkansas Advocate.

“The bill sends the message that Arkansas thinks trans people are inherently dangerous,” Everett said.

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