JEFFERSON CITY – Gender accessibility has become a controversial topic on a national level, and a bill presented at a hearing Tuesday aims to institute policies in Missouri public schools that would require students use restrooms and lockers according to their biological sex.
Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, sponsored Senate Bill 98 and presented it to the Education Committee at the state capitol.
The bill applies to public schools, kindergarten through grade 12, and higher education.
“It says we’re going to continue to identify male bathrooms, female bathrooms, but we’ll also acknowledge that there are others that don’t see themselves fitting either of those gender categories the way those have always been identified and that we will also provide separate facilities for each of those genders,” Emery said.
According to Emery, implementing the bill would not cost anything and he said it makes suggestions as to how schools can accommodate different gender identities in whatever way they decide. The bill just states schools have to accommodate them, he said.
According to the bill, “Acceptable accommodations may include but are not limited to access to single-stall restrooms, unisex restrooms, or controlled use of faculty restrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms.”
State Senator Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said the Missouri legislature has much more important things to be dealing with than which bathroom a student uses.
“Local school boards are in the best situation, the locally elected officials, to determine what their school policy should be,” Schupp said. “This is not a statewide issue. I also believe that we should respect the identity of our young people as they utilize the facilities they believe to be appropriate for them.”
She said the cost of the bill is not in terms of finances, but to the wellbeing of the people who are impacted by the legislation.
Cathy Serino, who identifies as a transgender woman, testified against what she referred to as “discriminatory legislation.”
“It’s basically going to out all of our transgender students and expose them to harassment, bullying and violence,” Serino said.
She said she is trying to help the next generations not experience the assault she faced in her transition.
The University of Missouri has worked to provide gender-neutral bathrooms around the campus.
Mark Swanson, an associate professor of strategic communication, saw the new bathrooms put into place.
“I think that the community here at the University of Missouri has really shown a lot of empathy and understanding to the diverse community that we have and the unisex bathroom is one practical solution, one practical way that we as a community can be sensitive, empathetic and understanding,” Swanson said.
Emery said the committee will likely vote on the bill in about a week.