Trans bathroom ban advances in Oklahoma legislature amid open letter battle
A local argument over trans student bathroom access in Stillwater has turned into a statewide issue.
Last week saw a slew of political attacks via open letters and car selfie videos featuring state officials chastising each other over trans bathroom policy inaction. It closed out with the House of Representatives approving a measure that bars trans students from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
The political bickering is hard to keep track of, and it’s frankly overwhelming for trans people, as two transgender teens told StateImpact in an April interview.
So, here’s a brief timeline of what policymakers did and said in relation to trans bathroom access last week.
Saturday, April 23
- State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister requests a binding Attorney General’s opinion from AG John O’Connor. Hofmeister says in her letter that the opinion would give “crystal clear” guidance to schools about how to shape their bathroom policies for transgender students.
Wednesday, April 27
- The day starts with a contentious State Board of Education meeting where Hofmeister declined to allow board members to vote on the issue or issue rules, something O’Connor and the Stillwater school board had asked for.
- Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton, along with 15 of his colleagues, asks O’Connor for a binding opinion.
- O’Connor’s office responds to Moore in a letter that misspells Hofmeister’s last name. The AG’s office encourages the legislature to pass a bill that will restrict trans students from using the restroom corresponding to their gender identity.
- Hofmeister responds with a news release that “sets the record straight.” She writes again that she wants an AG’s opinion from O’Connor, though she feels it ultimately should be up to local districts to decide their bathroom policies.
Thursday, April 28
- Secretary of Education and candidate for State Superintendent for Public Instruction Ryan Walters attacks Hofmeister for not voting on a rule at the previous day’s meeting.
- The Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly votes to approve SB 615, which bars transgender students from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity and puts restrictions on sex education in public schools. The bill had previously only addressed the sex education piece, and will have to go back to the Senate before arriving at Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk.
Policymakers have some mixed guidance on transgender access to bathrooms in school. While federal courts have ruled transgender students should be able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the issue, declining to hear a case last summer.
The Biden administration has issued federal guidance that says schools should allow transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. That reinstated a previous order by the Obama administration that had been suspended under Trump.
In Stillwater, transgender students are allowed to use whichever restroom best suits them. That policy has been in place since 2015, and the district hadn’t had an issue with it before this spring.
Interim superintendent Gay Washington wrote to Stillwater parents and students earlier this month that who used which bathroom had been a non-issue in the district.
"Central to some individuals' expressed concerns is a fear that allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom of their gender identity poses a danger to other students," Washington wrote in the open letter to the district. "Transgender individuals have been using the restroom of their gender identity in [Stillwater Public Schools] for many years, and the district has received zero reports of any transgender individuals behaving inappropriately toward anyone else in a restroom."
"The notion that transgender individuals are more prone to inappropriate behavior is categorically false."
Mental health support for LGBTQ+ individuals is available through the Trevor Project. Their hotline is 866-488-7386, and help is also available through thetrevorproject.org.