Guest post by Andy Birkey
Crossposted from the Column
Photo and Minnesota Senate Media Services added by Bluestem Prairie.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Minnesota Senate defeated an amendment that would have repealed transgender-inclusive policies of local school districts.
During debate on an omnibus education policy bill, Sen. Warren Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove, offered an amendment targeting transgender-inclusive policies. The amendment is identical to one that was passed by the House on Saturday.
The Senate defeated the amendment 25 to 40 with Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City being the only DFLer voting in favor, and three Republicans crossing over to vote against it. They were Sen. David Senjem and Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, and Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen.
The purpose of this section is to protect and provide for the privacy and safety of all students enrolled in public schools and to maintain order and dignity in restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, showers, and other facilities where students may be in various states of undress in the presence of other students. Subd. 2. Definitions. For the purposes of this section, the following terms have the meanings given them.(a) “Sex” means the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy. Subd. 3. Student physical privacy protection. (a) A public school student restroom, locker room, changing room, and shower room accessible by multiple students at the same time shall be designated for the exclusive use by students of the male sex only or by students of the female sex only.(b) A public school student restroom, locker room, changing room, and shower room that is designated for the exclusive use of one sex shall be used only by members of that sex.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts currently have policies that are inclusive of transgender students allowing them to participate in school activities and use school facilities according to their gender identity. The Limmer amendment would have repealed those policies and blocked other school districts from implementing their own.
The debate over the the amendment was significant.
Via Minnesota Senate Media Services YouTube Channel, here's the full debate:
Sen. Limmer explained his amendment: “This particular amendment would simply recognize that when a student, regardless of how they think of themselves, that the birth sex would dictate the appropriate bathroom locker room or any other changing room, shower room, that would be used.”
Sen. Chuck Wiger, a DFLer from Maplewood, told the Senators he opposed the amendment and distributed letters that three organizations sent to the Senate opposing the amendment: The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and the Minnesota Elementary and Secondary School Principals Association. [Here’s the MCLU letter]
Sen. Scott Dibble, a DFLer from Minneapolis, told fellow Senators to vote against the amendment because “these bathroom surveillance bills are unnecessary, they are unenforceable, they encourage discrimination, and they would expose our schools quite clearly to civil liability.”
Transgender and gender nonconforming young people are already at much much greater risk for harassment, discrimination, being pushed out of the schools, and this only goes to further stigmatize vulnerable students. These are our children. Transgender people are a part of everyday American life. Instead of ostracizing our own children we should embrace people and ensure all are safe and can live their daily lives without harassment.
Dibble asked the Senators to try to understand what it means to be transgender.
Maybe we need to spend a moment really understanding that transgender boys are boys and transgender girls are girls. I would ask the members of this body to spend some time and get to know members of our community with whom we might not be familiar. Understand that some people are born in a way that is different. Their brains are different than what their bodies might be. This is not a matter of choice and some move through the world and present themselves in a way that conforms to who they are what their gender identity is.
Sen. Michelle Benson, a Republican from Ham Lake, supported the amendment and asked the senators to think of the “little girl in 4th grade” who “maybe she would just like to be in a bathroom with girls.”
“Elementary students, junior high students, even high school students, of all types are going through some tough times and this allows somebody to say can I just be in a locker room with people who I know are girls.”
Sen. Carrie Ruud, a Republican from Breezy Point, said she also supported the amendment saying “the main purpose of this is to protect and provide safety for all of our children.”
Sen. Paul Gazelka, a Republican from Nisswa, bio boys who id as girls should not share locker rooms and bathrooms and washer with bio girls, that’s just common sense
Sen. John Marty, a DFLer from Roseville, asked for more understanding and told senators to reject the amendment:
Transgender folks don’t understand what it’s like for the rest of us, and we don’t understand what life is like for them but I think the idea is: 4th graders can learn somebody is different than them. A transgender girl is still a girl. they can learn to understand that, and teachers — kindergarten teachers — can teach this. People of every age can learn from it and that’s what I think.
Sen. Ron Latz, a DFLer from St. Louis Park, criticized the idea that cisgender students would be uncomfortable around transgender students.
I understand how a little 4th grade girl might feel a little uncomfortable. Seems to me that would pale in comparison to the feelings of a transgender child who feels a lot more uncomfortable, who is excluded, who is isolated, who is condemned, who is bullied, who may be physically attacked. Indeed, who’s at risk here? The safety issue is not for the 95, 98, 99 percent of the children who are not transgender. The safety issue of for the one who stands out as different and kids can be cruel. The only way kids are going to learn to not lash out physically and emotionally at people who are different is to be with them, to understand them, and to learn to accept them.
Sen. Dan Hall, a Republican from Burnsville, worried that he might have to shower with someone who is transgender.
I’m thinking about my granddaughter as we think about this bill… For my granddaughter at 8 years old or whatever, 9 years old. They are to be in the locker room and have a boy walk in that believes he is a girl, you know? I feel for him but what about all my granddaughters or your children or the children of Minnesota are going to see him nude… What about me when I go — if I were to go to the YMCA and they say now, ‘We are letting anybody go into any locker room no matter what you are,’ and I have a female walk into the showers and I’m nude and they are nude. Would I not feel uncomfortable? Members, would you not feel uncomfortable? And we are going to do that to our children?
Sen. Dibble spoke again, chastising the discussion on the Senate floor:
Imagine how young person who is a girl — who might have been identified differently at their birth — is going to feel knowing about this discussion is going on on the floor of the Minnesota Senate. Somehow they are worthy of being marginalized, singled out, ostracized, and treated differently. Imagine that girl is being told they have to walk into a boys bathroom. Imagine the response of the student body, in those circumstances. Members, you heard it on the floor. There’s a lack of understanding and familiarity with transgender people. There’s an old expression: ignorance equals fear, fear equals discrimination. Members, please look into your hearts, think about those young people. They are human beings, they feel deeply, their parents love and care about them and fear for them every single day that they send them to school.
Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen was the only Republican to speak in opposition to the the amendment:
This amendment makes me incredibly sad, because it targets so very few Minnesotans and its really unfortunate. I don’t believe that a state law is necessary to address this issue it’s been pointed out by senators in this body that our principals feel confident that they can handle these issues on a case-by-case basis and they are have local officials. They are accountable to our school boards who also have election certificates, and so members I will be voting ‘no’ on this amendment because I believe the principals in our schools and the faculty in our schools have the best interests of all student at heart. And I have seen first hand how these principals have worked to deal with these cases on a case-by-case basis. I had an instance in my family, very close to me, of bullying, and I saw an assistant principal meet with the family members on both sides of the problem and work out solution. Those are good things that happen in our high schools when those principals and teachers work out some of these challenging situations. And those affected can learn by them. We don’t need broad sweeping legislation. We need to encourage this conversation because we live in world that is changing. And I have been affected by this so much by the students that come to this Capitol year after year and say please accept us and our friends for who we are. I’m learning from them I’m grateful for their visits here and i will be voting ‘no’ on this amendment. I encourage members to be brave and vote ‘no’ and allow our schools, out principals, our families, and our school boards to handle these issues appropriately.
Sen. Alice Johnson, DFLer from Blaine, shared the story of a family member who is intersex and how the amendment, which requires schools to police bathrooms based on chromosomes, would exclude intersex students from accessing school facilities. The amendment defines who can use school facilities based on sex as determined by chromosomes.
“How this amendment defines sex, it could exclude certain students with chromosomal disorders. I have had personal experience with that in our family. That person, because of chromosomes, is defined as agender because they did a test in the hospital.”
Sen. Limmer gave final remarks before the vote:
I believe, and I think Minnesota parents believe, that biological female students should not have to worry about a biological man young man sharing their locker room or bathroom nor should our daughters be put in the position of sharing a locker room or a bathroom with a bunch of adolescent young men. I believe schools should not be a place for social engineering. I believe, and I think you should ask yourself the question, should biological boys who identify as girls be able to share bathrooms and lockers with biological girls. That’s what this issue is about. It’s not about whether we are going to allow certain kids to play on specific biological sex teams like has already been discussed. We are talking about the use of facilities designed for locker rooms, bathrooms, places to undress. Students have the right to privacy. All students do. They have a right to privacy in those facilities or do they not? Apparently there’s a few here that say they do not deserve privacy… Do you believe that locker rooms of your daughter be shared with biological men? Its as simple as that.
After Limmer spoke, the Senate voted 25 to 40 to not pass the amendment. Since the House did pass a similar amendment to its omnibus education bill, the two chambers will have to decide what to do with the amendment in conference committee sometime in the next two weeks.