Critics Decry Proposed Transgender Privacy Act in Kansas

(Photo: Maliz Ong, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Maliz Ong, Creative Commons)

Kansas lawmakers have introduced a bill called the “Student Physical Privacy Act” that would allow any student who witnesses a transgendered classmate heading into a bathroom that does not correspond with their biological gender to sue their school for $2,500.

The law is designed to protect Kansas students. “Young adults have a reasonable expectation that postsecondary educational institutions in this state will not allow their students to be viewed in various states of undress by members of the opposite sex while using student restrooms, locker rooms, and showers,” the bill reads.

Critics argue that the bill effectively places a bounty on transgender students’ heads.

“I think any child or young adult has a right to have their privacy protected when they’re in various stages of undress,” Republican State Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook said of the legislation. Accordingly, if someone of the opposite gender were to walk into a bathroom that did not correspond with their biology, it could make other students feel unsafe.

Though others argue that the anti-trans legislation is unnecessary. Trans-students pose no threat or risk to their classmates, they say. The Director of Equality Kansas, Tom Witt, has said that the law “is isolating kids, and it’s not going to end well. It’s putting a target on their back.”

Moreover, independent studies have demonstrated that there has never been a single case of a trans person making unwanted advances on someone in a public restroom. Still, myths swirl about the harmful, illicit, and overly sexual behavior exhibited by transgender people in public bathrooms. Some universities and cities have forged ahead to pass policies that facilitate transgender peoples’ integration into society.

Zack Ford of Think Progress argues that the bill attempts to “define ‘sex’ in a narrow way,” while ignoring the varying ways in which individuals conceive of their gender. Big-name institutions in Kansas, such as University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Washburn University, already have existing measures on the books protecting trans students against discrimination based on gender identity. This law threatens to jeopardize those guarantees.

According to Nico Lang, a writer for the website Advocate, the Kansas bill may be the most extreme of a recent flurry of anti-trans legislation pouring out of statehouses. Over 100 bills addressing the LGBTQ community are being considered across the United States. An identical piece of legislation is being mulled over in Indiana.

Politically, the Kansas legislature is dominated by social and fiscal conservatives. It has previously made headlines for several of its other conservative laws enacted since Governor Sam Brownback’s election in 2010, but, according to telesur, several state Republicans have released statements lambasting the bill to criticize it for distracting from the more serious budgetary measures at hand.

If the bill passes, Kansas would become the first state in the union with such sweeping ant-transgender policies. This measure stands in sharp contrast with the gains the LGBTQ community has made in terms of public opinion and policy over in recent years, including the right to marry and enlist openly in the armed services.