Hearing puts Spotlight On SC Transgender Bathroom Bill

When Danielle Driscoll’s child came out to her as transgender and began transitioning last year from female to male, they were in the process of moving to Columbia.

“I was really proud of him,” said Driscoll, recalling how her 13-year-old son started the school year by writing a note to his new teachers, explaining that he was transitioning and asking if they would call him by his new name and refer to him using male pronouns.

“That took a lot of courage, especially in a brand-new school, and a brand-new place,” Driscoll said. “That was kind of the start. It was like, ‘OK, we’re doing this.’ ”

Her son will take another step by joining other members of the transgender community and their allies by testifying Wednesday morning against a Senate bill that would end transgender men and women using the bathrooms of their choice.

After the hearing, more than a dozen transgender organizations are planning to participate in a rally outside the State House, organized by the Trans Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, has mobilized the state’s transgender community already energized by a similar law passed in North Carolina last month.

Driscoll says Bright’s bill is “such a bigger issue than what restroom you’re using,” she said. “Passing a bill like this feels like it would be saying, ‘It’s OK to not be accepting, and it’s OK to not allow him to feel safe in his environment..’ ”

Bright said he’s concerned more about the safety of women in restrooms than the feelings of transgender men and women.

“If a (small percentage) of the population wants to be something that a majority of the population thinks is strange and abnormal, that’s their business,” he said. “You can’t force people to accept something like that.”

Bright said he plans to have a top North Carolina lawmaker testify Wednesday about his state’s new HB2 law that includes a transgender bathroom ban. North Carolina House Majority Leader Mike Hager said seeing several Southern states considering similar laws shows, “That it’s good policy.”

Other testimony supporting the bill is being organized by the Columbia-based Palmetto Family Council, which sent an email blast Monday headlined, “Protect Our Children in Restrooms and Showers.”

Family Council president Oran Smith said he has asked a lawyer with Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, which works on religious issues, to provide a legal analysis of the bill at the hearing Wednesday. While no reports about significant incidents about men using women’s restrooms have been reported to S.C. authorities, Smith said Bright’s bill “would head something off.”

Bright said he hopes to finish testimony this week so the bill could get a committee vote to go to the Senate floor next week.

But opposition is mounting. The state’s top Republican, Gov. Nikki Haley, called the bill unnecessary. State Sen. Joel Lourie, a Richland Democrat who will join Bright in presiding over the hearing Wednesday, said, “with all the blood in my veins and all the oxygen in my body” that he would block the proposal.

Bright’s bathroom bill would, if passed, make transgender students feel unsafe at school, said Greg Green, a 32-year-old transgender man who runs a support group for transgender people at his Columbia church.

“What it causes really is a lot of anxiety,” said Green, who plans to testify Wednesday. “My concern is the outing.”

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he plans to testify Wednesday about the economic benefits of his city having anti-discrimination ordinances based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I believe that this bill will cost the state millions in lost business,” he said. “We only have to look as far as North Carolina.”

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender supporters have criticized North Carolina political leaders after the passage of bill that also ended local ordinance providing protections based on sexual orientation. Last week, online payment provider Paypal called off an expansion in Charlotte, and rock star Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro.

“There’s not a price for doing the right thing,” said Hager, a Republican from Rutherfordton. “My first role in office is protecting citizens, not how much business we can get.”

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