A Virginia lawmaker has filed a bill to force transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate and require school principals to notify a student’s parents if the student makes any attempt to be “treated as the opposite sex.”
Del. Robert G. Marshall, a Prince William County Republican and one of the General Assembly’s most socially conservative members, filed a bill he’s titled the “Physical Privacy Act” for the legislative session that begins next week.
The proposal mirrors North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which prompted business boycotts and outcry from LGBT groups. However, the Virginia version faces long odds, and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has tried to lure business prospects away from North Carolina over the HB2 fallout, said he will veto “any bill that restricts the rights of Virginians based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Marshall’s bill, HB1612, would block transgender people from accessing restrooms corresponding to their gender identity in all government buildings, including schools and universities. The bill also would enable people who encounter a transgender person in the wrong bathroom to sue the government entity for failing to take “reasonable steps” to strictly separate bathrooms by birth sex.
In an interview Wednesday, Marshall said the bill was meant to protect women from men pretending to be transgender in order to gain access to women’s bathrooms for nefarious purposes. His goal, he said, was to preserve “safe space” for women throughout Virginia.
“To let boys or guys without anything else just claim they’re transgendered is to really put women in harm’s way,” said Marshall, who has drawn headlines in the past for his staunch opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
LGBT rights advocates have vigorously opposed transgender bathroom bills as discriminatory and unnecessary. Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager from Gloucester County who was barred from using the boys’ bathroom, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against his school district that could lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling with nationwide impact.
Danica Roem, a 32-year-old transgender woman from Manassas who announced this week that she’s running for Marshall’s seat as a Democrat, called Marshall’s bill another example of his tendency to file hot-button legislation that goes nowhere. Roem said that in her work as a journalist, she never heard Prince William residents talk about transgender bathroom issues as a top priority.
“Why? Because we’re not a threat,” Roem said. “This is ridiculous.”
Marshall pointed to cases of “scurrilous activity” in bathrooms in other states, including a lawsuit against a school district in Minnesota sparked by a transgender girl “twerking and grinding” in a girls’ locker room, but said he knew of no examples in Virginia.
Marshall said he was spurred to act by the Prince William School Board’s consideration of expanding its nondiscrimination policy to add protection for transgender students and staff. That decision was put off until later this year, but Marshall said the policy has drawn vocal opposition in his home county, not all of it of the “Bible-banging” variety.
Marshall, who has also introduced a resolution for 2017 to declare pornography a threat to public health, said he’ll introduce a separate gender-related bill to clearly define the terms male and female. He played down the controversy in North Carolina, saying the state retained its high ranking on Forbes magazine’s list of best states for business despite the furor.
“I guess common sense is not so common anymore,” Marshall said.
Virginia Republicans have shown little appetite for transgender bathroom bills in the past, and pressing the issue could be particularly risky as the GOP tries to fight the state’s blue trend and retake the governor’s office this fall.
A similar bill died last year in a Republican-controlled House of Delegates committee by an 8-13 vote, with some lawmakers pointing to the pending lawsuit as a reason to avoid setting a statewide policy.
Marshall acknowledged that he’ll likely face resistance from his own party.
“That’s because (House Speaker) Bill Howell doesn’t want to deal with any of these issues. And that’s the problem,” Marshall said. “If the Republicans aren’t willing to stand up, the voters may just take a walk in November.”
Howell spokesman Chris West declined to comment on the substance of Marshall’s legislation, but dismissed Marshall’s assertion about Howell as “Bob being Bob.”
“We have the committee process for a reason,” West said. “This bill will be heard just like all of the other nearly 2,000 pieces of legislation that we deal with.”
In a call with reporters Wednesday, LGBT advocates said the bill would harm the economy as well as transgender people.
“What we would like to see is the leadership on both sides step up on day one and say this bill is dead on arrival,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.
In a statement, McAuliffe’s office reiterated the governor’s long-standing veto threat against bills he sees as discriminatory.
“The governor is hopeful that Republicans in the General Assembly will drop these counterproductive bills and turn their focus toward building a stronger and more equal Virginia economy,” said McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy.
Cathryn Oakley, who works on state and local LGBT issues for the Human Rights Campaign, said Marshall’s parental notification requirement appears to be a national outlier. With many LGBT youths facing ostracization from their families for coming out, they may have good reason to be more open at school than at home.
Marshall’s bill stresses parents’ rights to raise children as they see fit. In addition to bathroom issues arising, the bill would require principals to notify a student’s parents within 24 hours if the child asks to be referred to by “a name or pronouns inconsistent with the child’s sex.”
“I have no idea what the letters ‘ze’ mean,” Marshall said. “Although I’m told this is what some transgender people want to be referred to.”