One female student in the Stillwater Public Schools refused to drink at school out of fear she would have to use the same restroom as a male student, according to Oklahoma state Rep. Danny Williams. Stories like that, shared by parents, prompted Williams and other Oklahoma legislators to draft a bill protecting the privacy of students.
On May 19, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed the legislation, which requires students to use restrooms based on their biological sex or use single-occupancy facilities. LGBTQ groups see the rule as an attack on the rights of students who identify as transgender, but the legislators responsible for the law argue it will further the rights of all students.
Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBTQ activist group, strongly opposed the change in a statement posted on its website. “This law is unconstitutional, a violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, and more than anything, it is unnecessarily cruel for the sake of cruelty,” CEO Nicole McAfee said.
Stillwater schools spokesman Barry Fuxa said previous administrators changed the district’s restroom policy following a 2015 policy letter by the Obama administration. The letter said Title IX’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination in education applied to students who identified as transgender. The Education Department under President Donald Trump reversed that policy in 2017.
“Title IX has to do with fairness and equity for women in comparison to the guys in collegiate and high school athletics, so there’s really no parallel there,” Williams said.
The new Oklahoma law comes amid increasing national tension revolving around parental concerns for children’s privacy and anti-discrimination rules. The Alabama Senate recently passed a similar bill amid opposition from LGBTQ activists.
Although Stillwater Public Schools started allowing students who identify as transgender to use whatever restroom they wanted in 2015, increasing concerns from Oklahoma lawmakers and parents brought the matter to a head recently.
“The parents are the ones who raised all billy heck about it,” said Williams. When families began calling attention to the issue, schools contacted the Oklahoma government asking for help.
“We were told by the school and by other schools, pass a policy so we know what is right to do and we’ll do it,” Williams said.
In response, Williams and other Oklahoma legislators drafted a bill to require biological females to use the women’s restroom and biological males to use the men’s restroom. The measure also stipulates that “each public school or public charter school in this state shall provide a reasonable accommodation to any individual who does not wish to comply with the provisions.” Williams said he and his fellow legislators “tried to … represent all children, and we want to make sure that all of our kids are treated fair.”
Williams said the law will create more equality in schools for all students.
“One of the questions I had asked of me [was] by a parent that said, ‘Do you have your 14- and 15-year-old girl and boy shower together?’ Well, the answer is absolutely not,” Williams said. “If we hadn’t provided for this protection that could have been an activity that was allowed. … If you’re not going to do it at home, don’t do it at school.”