An Oklahoma bill limiting access to public-school bathrooms by a person’s birth sex is now law.
School districts and charter schools that don’t comply face a 5% deduction in their state funding. That could subtract thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the school system.
Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 615 into law Wednesday. An emergency provision in the bill caused it to take effect as soon as the governor wrote his signature.
“Governor Stitt believes girls should use girl restrooms and boys should use boy restrooms,” Stitt’s spokesperson, Carly Atchison, said in a statement Wednesday evening.
All public-school restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms or shower rooms are now to be designated for exclusive use of the female or male sex. Use of these rooms is restricted to the sex listed on a person’s original birth certificate.
The law requires schools to offer single-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms for those who don’t want to use the facility that aligns with their birth sex.
Parents and legal guardians would have grounds to sue if their children’s public school fails to comply with the law, the bill states.
The legislation follows months of debate over whether students should be allowed to use the restroom that matches their gender identity, not strictly their sex at birth.
Transgender student accommodations at Stillwater still a focal point in controversy
A protocol in Stillwater Public Schools that allowed bathroom use by gender identity became a focal point of recent rhetoric.
Stillwater schools adopted the practice six years ago. No incidents of misbehavior were reported as a result of the policy, the school district said.
Regardless, GOP lawmakers and state leaders claimed the policy presents a safety threat to girls’ bathrooms.
Stitt’s education secretary, Ryan Walters, has been a leading voice against school restrooms accommodating for gender identity.
Walters, a Republican candidate for state schools superintendent, loudly opposed the protocol in Stillwater, calling it the product of a “woke agenda.”
“Biological males should not receive unrestricted access to women’s restrooms, leaving our young girls uncomfortable and afraid to enter them during school,” Walters wrote in a letter to the school district.
Education and culture wars have collided in political campaigns across the country in recent years, and policies affecting transgender students have been at the forefront of that movement in Oklahoma.
The governor signed into law this year a bill that prohibits transgender girls from women’s sports in high school and college.
Stitt, who is running for re-election, also OK’d a ban on non-binary birth certificates.
A bill affecting transgender students’ bathroom access would be “the most dangerous policy that has advanced” this year, said Nicole McAfee, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ equality.
Such a law could cause transgender children to question whether they are safe using the restroom at school, McAfee told The Oklahoman in an interview last month.
Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited under federal Title IX laws, according to U.S. Department of Education guidance released last year.
The U.S. Supreme Court let two rulings stand in 2021 from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that determined it to be unconstitutional and a Title IX violation to prevent students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
A January poll from the Trevor Project found 85% of transgender youths say the introduction of anti-transgender bills has a negative impact on their mental health.
“The idea of passing trans-exclusionary bathroom protocol will do a lot of harm,” McAfee said. “Even the possibilities of discussing it are actively causing harm right now.”
Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.