Transgender bathroom bill clears Senate panel with little notice

Published: Feb. 24, 2015 at 5:03 AM EST|Updated: Apr. 10, 2015 at 4:22 AM EDT
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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - In a surprise even to the Senate's president, the Senate Education Committee met Monday evening and approved a bill forcing transgender students to use restrooms that correspond with their sex at birth.

The bill failed to get the necessary votes in committee last week. Monday, the panel's agenda was publicly listed as "pending" before the hearing, which ended with an 8-1 vote advancing the legislation to the full Senate.

[RELATED STORY: Appeals board upholds high school bathroom policy for transgender teen]

Minutes before the hearing began, Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters he wasn't sure the Education Committee was meeting.

"With all the important issues before the Senate, to prioritize an issue of discrimination, is simply ludicrous," said Chris Hartman of the Fairness Coalition, adding that he heard about the hearing "about 30 seconds" before the committee convened.

Sen. Mike Wilson, the committee's chairman, defended the decision to reconsider the bill so quickly after last week's failure and with little notice.

"The chairman always has discretion to call a meeting," Wilson said. "The bill's been out there (in public)."

The legislation requires that students born as males use the male restroom, and students born females use the female restroom. The legislation applies to school restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

The controversial issue has arisen because of a policy at Atherton High School in Louisville, where last year a student born male wanted to use the female restroom. School administrators — and, later, the school's site-based decision council — adopted a policy allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

Christina Kelty, a sophomore at Atherton, testified Monday in support of the legislation.

"I know of several girls at my school who are uncomfortable with my school's policy but are afraid to speak out about it because they know the school's not on their side and they're afraid of judgment by their peers," Kelty told reporters. "I thought those girls needed a voice."

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, was the only dissenting vote Monday. Thomas, who is black, said the issue reminded him of an era when white students were uncomfortable using the same restroom as black students.

Two senators who had voted "no" last week didn't attend Monday's hearing, Hartman said.

Henry Brousseau, a transgender student who attends Louisville Collegiate School, said the panel's vote was "a step back."

"Me using a restroom -- going to the male restroom -- didn't affect (others) in any discernible way," Brousseau said. "It wasn't a matter of me breeching their privacy. When I go to the restroom, and when most people go to the restroom, they go to use the restroom. They're not there to be a predator."

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, in comments made before the Senate panel's vote, implied that the legislation was not high on his list of priorities.

"They were too busy debating such complicated matters as where people should go to the bathroom in schools," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, when asked whether he'd discussed other legislation with Senate Republicans.

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