Oklahoma’s legislature has passed a bill that would ban transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Senate Bill 615 would require students in the state’s public schools to use restrooms according to the sex on their birth certificate, barring transgender girls from using female bathrooms, and transgender boys from using male bathrooms. Governor Kevin Stitt is expected to sign the bill into law this week.
Bathroom bans have a pernicious history. In 2016, at least 18 US states considered bills that would restrict transgender students’ access to restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities. Now, after two years of relative silence from state lawmakers, there are troubling signs of a resurgence of these legislative efforts: Alabama recently enacted a bathroom ban, and now Oklahoma is on the verge.
Oklahoma’s bathroom ban is part of a larger wave of recent attacks against transgender youth in the United States. Lawmakers in at least 30 states have proposed athletic bans this year limiting or completely barring transgender students from participating in sports; 16 states now restrict transgender students from playing alongside peers. In addition to these athletic bans, officials in Texas and Arkansas have taken steps to investigate or prosecute the provision of gender-affirming care for transgender children.
Oklahoma’s bathroom ban would endanger transgender students’ health and undermine their rights to education and privacy. Bathroom bans are documented to exacerbate physical and verbal harassment against transgender children, and adversely affect their physical and mental health, academic achievement, and participation in school. If enacted into law, Senate Bill 615 would further isolate and stigmatize transgender children who are already prone to bullying, rendering schools an unsafe and hostile environment. Many students are effectively “outed” through these bans as they are compelled to implicitly disclose their transgender status through their bathroom usage.
Oklahoma’s lawmakers have chosen to expand a nationwide assault on transgender children’s rights. Officials should instead ensure transgender children have safe and comfortable access to bathrooms, and an education free from discrimination. Lawmakers should defend the rights of all students, not undermine them.