A controversial bill that would require transgender students at Virginia public schools to use the restroom and locker room of their biological sex was killed by a House of Delegates subcommittee Tuesday on a 8-13 vote.
The bill, House Bill 781, gained wide attention this year after critics suggested it would require school employees to check students’ genitals. The bill’s patron, Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, dismissed those suggestions as false, saying the proposal was meant to protect students’ privacy and ward off lawsuits against local school boards.
“I think this will help protect schools from being sued over the issue of allowing someone of the opposite sex to use the facilities that are designated one way or the other,” Cole said during a hearing before the House General Laws Committee. “This is not about discrimination, this is about privacy.”
The bill would have required local school boards to adopt policies requiring that all restrooms and locker rooms accessible by multiple students be “designated for and only used by students based on their biological sex.” The legislation would have applied to all public buildings owned by the state. Violations would carry a $50 civil penalty.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said lawmakers were discussing the issue in a manner that was “not right,” arguing that people should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
“This has the potential to invite almost vigilante-type action,” Gastañaga said.
Gastañaga’s group is involved in a federal lawsuit against the Gloucester County School Board brought by transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male. Grimm sued after school officials prohibited him from using the boys bathroom, but the discrimination claim was denied in district court.
Gastañaga encouraged the committee to hold off on the bill to allow the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in the case.
“You are acting precipitously at a point in time when you will add concern and confusion and difficulty to an already difficult situation,” Gastañaga said.
Several lawmakers seemed to agree.
“This is a little bit complicated, and I’m not comfortable sending a signal to the courts that we’re making a decision in anticipation of what they may or may not decide,” said Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Loudoun.
Cole said he filed the bill at the request of parents and school officials in Stafford County and urged colleagues not to use the lawsuit as “an excuse to shirk our responsibility in this area.”
Several conservative and religious groups spoke in support of the bill.
“We can teach our children to be compassionate and tolerant toward one another without forcing young, school-age children into vulnerable interactions with the opposite sex in restrooms and locker rooms,” said Chris Freund of The Family Foundation.
The bill died in the Republican-controlled committee on a bipartisan vote.