Lowcountry lawmakers discuss bill to undo decision by BCSD regarding transgender students

Lowcountry lawmakers discuss bill to undo decision by BCSD regarding transgender students

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - South Carolina Senators delay a vote on a bill Thursday that would affect transgender students in Berkeley County when it comes to which restroom they can use.

Senators Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) and Paul Campbell (R-Berkeley) introduced legislation Tuesday that would require Berkeley County students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender at the time of birth.

The bill looks to reverse a decision made by the Berkeley County School District that allows transgender students to use the restroom with the gender with which they identify.

The bill, S-1306, would take effect upon approval by the Governor, and only be applied in the Berkeley County School District for the 2016-2017 school year.

Senators read the bill for a second time Wednesday and decided to adjourn their third reading Thursday until Tuesday, May 24.

"This is unprecedented for the Senate to adjourn to prevent a Senator from voting on a bill," Grooms said Thursday afternoon.

Grooms added only Berkeley County area Senators can vote since it's a "local" bill.

Other Senators disagree with the "local" statement saying it's a bill that will have consequences that affect the entire state.

They cited the state could lose federal funding for the education system if the bill were to pass.

"It's a little aggravating to know that people are constantly trying to work against the transgender community," said Sera, a transgender student at Berkeley High School.

The bill calls for every public school restroom, locker room, and shower room in the Berkeley County School District that is "accessible by multiple persons at the same time," be designated for use by male or females only.

It goes on to state, "No person shall enter a restroom, locker room, or shower that is designated for one sex unless he or she is a member of that sex… determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth."

Melissa Moore, executive director of the nonprofit support group We Are Family, calls the bill a "baseless attack on transgender people".

"Introducing legislation like this is a waste of time when lawmakers could and should be advancing policies that help people in our state," Moore said in a statement Wednesday.

In April the Berkeley County School District announced it would allow transgender students to use the restroom for the gender with which they identify.

However, after a May 10 meeting with an attorney for legal advice on Title IX, the district issued a statement for clarification.

"It appears the implementation of the Title IX interpretation concerning transgender students and their use of the restroom based upon the gender with which they identify is still unresolved by the Courts. School administrators will continue to manage requests made by, or on behalf of, transgender students in reference to the use of restroom facilities for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year in hopes of receiving a clearly defined direction from the Courts prior to the start of the upcoming school year. The District will continue to maintain and respect the privacy rights of all its students."

"I'm very proud of my school district, and I'm very happy to go to Berkeley County because of what they've done," Sera said. "I just really hope they don't fall victim to the ignorance."

"The district is out of step with the rest of the state," Grooms said. "They've chose to interpret federal law differently."

"I haven't had a girl walk in the boys bathroom and say that's what they identify with," said Nathan McPherson, a senior at Berkeley High School. "But if it were to happen that situation would probably make guys uncomfortable and it would probably cause some satire and being made fun of."

Harassment and sexual assault against the LGBTQ community is what We Are Family tries to combat.

"1 in 12 transgender women have a chance of being murdered in their lifetime," Moore said. "1 in 8 transgender women of color have a chance of being murdered in their lifetime. If we're worried about violence and sexual assault, we need to be doing more to protect the transgender community and not discriminate."

Grooms wants to keep the existing policies in place for at least a year within the Berkeley County School District.

"The district shouldn't change any policies based upon unsettled lawsuits," Grooms said, referencing what's going on in Virginia.

Sera, meanwhile, is trying to remain hopeful about the bill going through the Senate.

"I could end up going through it all again and be back in the staff restroom, and not where I feel I belong," she said. "It is very frustrating."

If the Senate were to pass the bill, it would move into the House for a vote.

The legislative session is expected to adjourn June 2.

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