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By Ryan M. Leach
Senate Bill 6 is about discrimination and not about privacy.
I grew up in a family of educators. My dad was a principal. My mother is a teacher. My sister is a teacher. Her husband is a teacher. My cousin is a teacher. I used to be a teacher. I went to public schools my entire life, including college. I was the general counsel of a Texas public school district for four years, and I still teach public-school law to graduate students. So I know a thing or two about Texas public education.
I know what it is like to be in the classroom, to be an administrator, and to be a lawyer. I can tell you, without a doubt in my mind, that Senate Bill 6 — the discriminatory bill that would, among other things, require Texans to use the restroom according to the gender they were assigned at birth—is entirely about discrimination and has zero to do with privacy.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and state senator (and all-time rube) Lois Kolkhorst are the authors and proponents of this legislation. If you have been paying attention to the evolution of their messaging on this legislation, you might have noticed that the focus has moved on to “protecting the privacy of our kids in restrooms and locker rooms.”
Early on, the message was more about “protecting women and girls from men dressed as women.” However, as people have become more familiar with the transgender community, this messaging has lost steam. The fact that almost every single business, business group, convention and visitors bureau, and business in the state has weighed in on the fact that they think SB 6 is bad for business hasn’t helped.
To be sure, SB6 certainly is bad for business. Despite claims to the contrary by the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, his state has lost hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in missed opportunities for events and business expansion. The NCAA is currently contemplating dropping them from consideration for the next six years.
I want to address this newest messaging. Transgender students have been a part of our public schools as long as schools have been around. I can tell you this based on my own personal experience, as well as the experience of my colleagues throughout the state. School attorneys are generally the first people involved when unusual or sensitive issues come up. Transgender students do not have a large presence in every school, but they are there.
One thing I can tell you about transgender kids is this: they want to go to school and learn and be safe just like every other student at that school. Their parents want them to learn and make friends and be safe as well. However, there are times when a child transitions that the school administrators, student, and family must sit down and formulate a plan to help that student move through the process smoothly. I have never met a parent of a transgender child, or a transgender child themselves, who did not understand that this process would take some adjustment on the part of the school community. In every case, we successfully created solutions and an environment that may not have been perfect, but that was safe every time. No one was singled out. No one was left without their dignity. No one seemed to have much of an issue with the student after the plan was put in place.
Being transgender is not as simple as announcing one day, “I am a boy/girl now, so everyone respect that.” Transitioning is a long and somewhat complicated process that involves therapists and doctors, and hormones and medical monitoring. I never met a student who claimed to be transgender simply so they could enter the restroom of the opposite gender. Senate Bill 6 fails to give credit to common sense among educators, parents, and students.
Some of the issues we would address might involve the type of clothing the student would wear. Once, there was a senior girl who was transgender and on the last day of school she wore a skirt for the first and only time. This, out of all my years of experience, was by far the most significant form of rebellion from a transgender student.
Sometimes there would be a question about which restroom a student would use. This issue usually came up if the student was being harassed in either restroom and, at the request of parent and/or student, we made accommodations. For the most part though, restroom and locker room use was not really something that came up in regards to the safety of cisgender students.
It is important that we know and understand that Senate Bill 6 is unnecessary as much as it is discriminatory. Our educators know how to handle complicated issues. It’s their job to make kids safe. Let them do their job.