Photo and Story by Eric Goodwin / Contributing Writer
Proposed “bathroom bills” in the Tennessee legislature meant to limit bathroom usage to the sex assigned on an individual’s birth certificate have made a comeback in the 110th Tennessee General Assembly.
The new bill, introduced by Sen. Mae Beavers (R) and Rep. Mark Pody (R) in the House, “requires students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to use restrooms and locker rooms that are assigned to persons of the same sex as that shown on the students’ birth certificates.”
The bill is worded verbatim to Rep. Susan Lynn’s bill proposed last year in the House, which she withdrew, citing the need to alter legislation before reintroducing it the next year. Last year’s bill received criticisms from Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who said the bill’s passage could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding.
The new bill’s fiscal summary states that “federal funding to the state for education could be jeopardized,” and there is an estimated $324,000 increase in state expenditures as a result of the bill’s passage.
As of now, the bill or SB0771 has been deferred in the Senate Education Committee to Mar. 22, 2017. In the house, it has been taken off notice for the calendar in its subcommittee.
The House bill has garnered 13 sponsors, all of which are Republican.
In the Senate, only Beavers sponsors the bill.
William Langston, the faculty advisor for the LGBT+ organization MT Lambda, said that the proposed bills are “legislation in search of a problem.”
As a state institution for higher education, MTSU could be impacted by the legislation.
The new bill would force students to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex as stated by their birth certificate, instead of using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.
This change in policy would affect students whose gender identity does not correspond to what is on their birth certificates. The bill, however, does not clarify which bathrooms non-students on campuses may use.
“Right now, students can use any bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity or gender expression,” said Kristopher Roberson, an international relations major and the vice president of Lambda.
Roberson said the bill “brings up a whole range of issues,” the most important aspect being “access to public space.”
MTSU currently has all gender restroom facilities, and Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Danny Kelley said the university does not “anticipate that these facilities will be impacted by this potential legislation.”
The MT Lambda web page says MTSU currently has two all gender restrooms in the Student Union Building, one in the James Union Building, two in Peck Hall and one in the College of Education Building, but Langston said there are more at the university than on the list.
In addition, the Recreation Center has an all gender changing facility.
Despite the accommodations, there are still buildings without gender-neutral bathrooms, such as the Science Building.
But Roberson said the on-campus provisions aren’t enough.
“Even if we do keep these gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s basically segregation,” Roberson said.
Elizabeth Burns-Carver, a biochemistry major and student member of Lambda, said that limiting the ability of transgendered people to use restrooms in public means “they must plan their lives.”
“That’s basically saying, you’re not allowed to be out in public,” Burns-Carver said
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