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Knoxville News Sentinel: Bill dictating restroom use is not conservative

By Tyler Deaton

As Republicans, we know that the best government is a limited government. We expect our elected leaders to pass legislation that is fiscally sound and does not intrude on our rights or liberties. Unfortunately, not all lawmakers agree with these principles.

Right now, lawmakers in Nashville are trying to pass legislation that prohibits school districts from allowing transgender students to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity and where they feel safest.

While the legislation specifically targets transgender students, every parent, regardless of whether their child is transgender, should be concerned with this bill. All kids are jeopardized by this misguided political assault.

As written, House Bill 2414 violates the dignity and modesty of every single student attending school, college or university in Tennessee. According to the legislation, every child would be required to prove the gender they live as every day matches the gender on their original birth certificate before being allowed to use the restroom. The legislation does not provide any guidance on how to verify a student’s gender. Other states that have rejected similar legislation considered using genetic testing or even visual inspections of a student to confirm his or her gender. No child should be subjected to these types of invasive inspections just to use the restroom.

The bill also would put school districts in a precarious situation. Schools, colleges and universities are set to lose millions of dollars defending themselves in lawsuits and administrative complaints. The state is also at risk of losing all federal education funding as a penalty for adopting this legislation, meaning Tennessee schools could lose as much as $682.5 million.

Given the risks to students’ privacy and school funding, why would Republican legislators force through such a dangerous mandate? Lawmakers have said it is to protect students, but have been unable to provide a single example in Tennessee or in any other state that proves why this legislation is needed.

Right now, school districts across the state work with parents, administrators, teachers, counselors and school psychologists to allow students to use the restroom where they are the safest. Sometimes this could include using a unisex restroom, while other times they may use the teachers’ restroom or a private stall in the restroom that matches the gender they live as every day.

Schools are currently free to adopt a variety of policies to ensure that every student is safe. We know these policies work. There has not been a single inappropriate or threatening incident reported. In the unlikely event such a situation were to crop up, the law already allows schools to take action and ensure every student is safe.

We do know this bill will make life more difficult for transgender kids, which is why leading medical organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the World Association for Transgender Health and more have opposed similar bills across the country.

Studies show that transgender kids experience heightened levels of harassment and bullying. They struggle fitting in with their classmates and are often left feeling isolated and alone. This bill further segregates transgender students and exacerbates those feelings of loneliness that are all too common with transgender kids.

Given the facts, Tennessee lawmakers must stand on their conservative principles and oppose this fiscally irresponsible and unnecessary bill. The dignity and safety of our children is not worth the gamble.

Tyler Deaton is senior advisor at the American Unity Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the cause of LGBTQ Americans.

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