Kentucky is in the national spotlight over the Kentucky Student Privacy Act (Senate Bill 76), proposed by Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown.
The bill requires transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their sex at birth. It also goes a step further, allowing other students to sue their schools for $2,500 if they encounter a transgender individual in the "wrong" restroom.
The bill declares the situation an emergency. The emergency is that transgender individuals face discrimination and harassment, and using a public restroom or locker room can be an additional stressor.
Embry argues that students sharing a bathroom with a trans student would experience "psychological, emotional, and physical harm."
However, if policies in public schools are necessary, it is more likely that they are needed to protect the transgender students. Children who are the most different from the norm are the most vulnerable to bullying and all its consequences.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth (2013), transgender students often face significant harassment and violence. As a result, these children and teenagers are much more susceptible than other youth to poor mental health, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and use of alcohol and drugs.
The AAP strongly supports zero-tolerance policies for bullying that support the idea that being a sexual or gender minority is different but normal.
Instead of passing a policy at the state level, schools should be encouraged to create and tailor policies that work for their students.
Atherton High School is an example of a Kentucky school that adopted its own policy allowing transgender students to access restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. According to the Louisville school's principal, Thomas Aberli, the policy has been implemented without problems.
Schools could provide a single-stall unisex restroom for any student who would feel safer using this alternative. However, some argue that a special bathroom could further stigmatize transgender students and make their situation worse.
We encourage school administrators and educators to actively engage transgender students in the development of policies and programs that support their health and wellbeing.
Many adolescents today are accustomed to having diverse friends and neighbors, including those of different gender identities and sexual orientations.
We don't give them enough credit when we assume that just being near a "different person" in a locker room will cause them psychological harm.
Embry's bill forces transgender students into a segregated space. Separate but equal is not equal. It is discrimination. We urge all Kentucky child advocates to strongly oppose SB76.