South Carolina

Restroom access for transgender people debated in Statehouse

The Trans Student Alliance at University of South Carolina holds a rally and news conference at the state Capitol to protest a controversial bill that would ban transgender people from choosing the bathroom they use Wednesday in Columbia.
The Trans Student Alliance at University of South Carolina holds a rally and news conference at the state Capitol to protest a controversial bill that would ban transgender people from choosing the bathroom they use Wednesday in Columbia. The State

Transgender people in South Carolina told state senators that a bill requiring them to use a public restroom corresponding to their “biological sex” puts them in danger of harassment.

The overwhelming majority of people at the Senate hearing opposed the measure, which mimics part of a North Carolina law signed last month that has brought a national backlash. No vote was taken.

The South Carolina bill introduced by Sen. Lee Bright would require multistall restrooms on public property to be designated and used “based on biological sex.” It specifically includes student restrooms, locker rooms and showers in public schools. It also would bar local governments from requiring businesses to let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice.

Bright said he’s had enough of tolerance if that means “men who claim to be women” going into a restroom with children.

“I don’t believe transgender people are pedophiles,” the Republican said. “I think grown adult men would use this as protection to violate women in the restroom.”

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, who was invited to the hearing to discuss instances in South Carolina of transgender people verbally or physically assaulting someone, had a simple answer: “I can find none.”

He declined to give any position on the bill, but when asked whether current laws protect people from being victimized, he said, “the state of South Carolina has laws to address assault and battery.”

Dex Sexton, 17, of Blythewood, said people don’t undress openly in women’s restrooms, as stalls provide privacy. If the issue is fear of assault, he asked, then why are men who have abused little boys not forced to use a different restroom?

“It’s protections against sexual assault that stop them, not because they can’t use the men’s bathroom,” he said.

The bill’s opponents said the proposal would do the opposite of its purported intention.

“Look at me and tell me I belong in the men’s restroom,” said Culpepper, who was wearing a blue, low-cut dress with red fingernails. Last year, she settled a lawsuit against the state Department of Motor Vehicles after being told to remove her makeup for a driver’s license photo. “Our community is already at risk for sexual assault and violence.”

Culpepper was among nine transgender people who stood in a show of support. Opponents also questioned how the bill would be enforced.

“In everyday life, how do we determine whether someone we’re with is male or female? We look at them. We don’t inspect their genitalia,” said University of South Carolina law professor Gregory Adams. “Are we going to start looking at their birth certificate?”

The bill has little chance this year. House GOP leaders have said they won’t deal with the issue and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has called it unnecessary.

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