SC transgender bathroom bill draws crowd of opponents

Transgender student Grayson Keck, left, told state senators about the difficulties he faces at school. (Photo: Robert Kittle/WBTW)

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – A public hearing Wednesday on the South Carolina transgender bathroom bill drew a crowd to the Statehouse, most of whom were against the bill. The bill would prohibit transgender people from using the restrooms or locker rooms of the gender they identify as.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, introduced the bill and chaired the subcommittee hearing to take public comments. He said after the meeting, “I do believe it’s a right to privacy, and it comes down to a fundamental safety issue. I don’t think men should be allowed in women’s restrooms.”

In the roughly hour-and-a-half meeting, only four people spoke in favor of the bill. Rev. Johnny Gardner told senators, “Anybody that’s decent does not want someone walking in on their spouse or their daughter or their granddaughter.”

Matt Sharp and Kellie Fiedorek, with the national Alliance Defending Freedom, told senators the bill would protect the privacy of students in schools. Sharp said it is a real problem. “Earlier this year, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the school district, Horry County School District over in Myrtle Beach, demanding that they allow a student to use the restroom of the opposite sex and threatening legal action if they didn’t,” he said. “It would put students at risk of bodily exposure to the opposite sex that is demeaning, humiliating, and potentially harmful.”

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said he’ll fight to block the bill from coming to a vote if it ever gets out of committee. He asked Fiedorek for examples of there being a problem with transgender people using restrooms. She said there’s a recent case in Dallas where a man who’s transitioning to a woman used a women’s restroom at a hospital. A concerned woman called police and the man was given a citation.

“Well now there’s a lawsuit taking place, where his attorney, working for Lambda Legal, says that he has every right to be in that bathroom because he’s transitioning to a woman. This gentleman, who says now he’s a transgender woman, actually is a convicted sex offender. In his past, he has sexually assaulted and abused young girls and now they’re trying to argue that, because he now believes he’s a woman, he should be allowed in the bathroom of his choice,” she said. She said there are other cases, too.

But the vast majority of the testimony was against the bill. Capri Culpepper, an 18-year-old transgender woman from Anderson, told senators that she dropped out of high school because of harassment. In 2014, when she was still going by the name Chase, she sued the state DMV when she went to get her driver’s license because a clerk made her take off her makeup for her license photo. The clerk said she needed to look like a boy, since that’s what was on her birth certificate. She won the lawsuit.

“I just ask for you to look at me and tell me that I belong in a men’s restroom,” she told senators. “And obviously that would be wrong, because in doing so you would put me at risk.”

Chase Glenn, a transgender man, had the same message. He said, “Senator Bright, would your wife or your daughters like to share a bathroom with me? Would they feel comfortable if I walked in the room? I’m thinking it would not make them feel any safer, which is what you’re saying this bill is supposed to do.”

Sen. Bright says there are accommodations for transgender students who don’t want to use the restroom for the gender they were born. But 13-year-old transgender boy Grayson Keck says that means he has to walk all the way to the nurse’s restroom. He misses most of a class, and also has to deal with stares and questions about why he’s going there. His mother says he refuses to use the girl’s bathroom, which is what would be required under this bill.

Grayson told senators, “I do not deserve to be forced to use a restroom where I do not feel safe. None of the people supporting this bill know the pain of constantly having to prove yourself to a world that you do not feel safe in.”

Blair Durkee, a transgender woman who’s a Ph.D student at Clemson, says she’s been using women’s bathrooms ever since she transitioned and it’s never been a problem. She says there’s no way she’ll ever use a men’s bathroom again. “Really, this bill is just not common sense,” she says. “It’s forcing men to use women’s restrooms and women to use men’s rooms, which is precisely what it’s supposed to prevent, so it’s kind of ironic in that sense.”

There were so many people who wanted to speak on the bill that the subcommittee will hold another hearing Thursday. It will be one hour after the Senate adjourns, and, since there’s no set time for adjournment, it’s impossible to say right now when that will be. The meeting will be in room 308 in the Gressette Senate office building at the Statehouse. That meeting will be streamed live on the Statehouse website.

A subcommittee typically votes on a bill. It goes on to a full committee only if it gets a favorable vote. But for this bill, the chairman of the Senate General Committee, Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, plans to have a full committee hearing and vote on the bill without a subcommittee vote. He’s a co-sponsor of the bill.

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