Legislation that would force transgender students to use separate restroom facilities from their peersas well as another bill that would make it easier for transgender Illinoisans to change the gender marker on their birth certificatesadvanced into the Illinois House Human Services Committee on March 23. The committee next meets April 5.
House Bill 4474, which state Rep. Thomas Morrison introduced, requires school boards to designate school restrooms as being for the exclusive use of persons of a single sex, and defines "sex" as the gender designation a person was assigned at birth. It also authorizes boards to designate a single-occupancy restroom or faculty restroom or changing facility that can be used by trans students if they submit a request in writing.
Last fall, a high school in Morrison's district was charged with discrimination by federal authorities when it did not allow a transgender girl to change in female-designated locker room facilities.
The bill's progress came the same week as passage of anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina. That new law overrode all local protections for LGBT individuals and was largely a response to an ordinance in Charlotte that offered protections against discrimination in housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Legislators convened a special session to pass the billat a cost of about $42,000 to North Carolina taxpayersand passed it on to Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the same day. Throughout the debate, lawmakers stoked anxieties about transgender residents using "incorrect" restroom facilities. A lawsuit to prevent the state from enforcing the law was scheduled to be announced March 28.
Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris said that circumstances with the Illinois bill are different, since Morrison's legislation is being introduced through normal legislative channels and not under surreptitious circumstances as in North Carolina. But Harris added, "We can't let grass grow under our feet either. We have about a week to let legislators know how wrong this kind of a law is."
Some advocates noted that legality of such a bill is murky, and could quite possibly endanger the federal funding of school districtssome of whom have enacted rules that are friendly to trans studentswho enforce its policies.
"The problem with the Morrison bill is that what he is proposing is in direct contrast with how the Department of Education interprets Title IX," said Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for ACLU Illinois, which litigated the case in the northwest suburbs.
Mike Ziri, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, said, "We don't know the sponsor's intention to call or not, but we are adamant that we are not going to be the next North Carolina. We've activated our base of supporters and talking to other groups."
Harris called the bill "a solution in search of a problem that hurts Illinois families."
Among Morrison's co-sponsors on HB 4474 are state Reps. Mary E. Flowers, Jeanne Ives, Brandon Phelps and Jerry Costello. One co-sponsor, state Rep. Camille Lilly, withdrew her sponsorship March 25.
Equality Illinois is urging residents to sign a petition against HB 4474 that will be presented to committee members and to the House member who represents each signer. The petition is at tinyurl.com/HB4474-petition .
Harris is chief sponsor of a second transgender-related bill, HB 6073, that also advanced to the House Human Services committee March 23. The bill amends the state's vital-records act so that a declaration by a physician that the individual is undergoing medically appropriate treatment would be the main requirement to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. Previously, an affidavit from a doctor saying that the individual had undergone gender-reassignment surgery was needed to implement a gender-marker change. The new rule would also apply to intersex individuals.
Activists have long advocated for such changes to birth certificate rules, since many transgender individuals may not be able, or may not wish, to undergo gender-reassignment surgery.
"I'm happy with the progress we've made," said Harris. "We've gotten good input from the medical community, helping tighten the language."
Co-sponsors include state Reps. Kelly Cassidy, Will Guzzardi, Cynthia Soto, La Shawn Ford, Silvana Tabares, Emanuel Chris Welch, Ann Williams and Sara Feigenholtz.
Ziri said that Equality Illinois is frequently contacted by individuals needing assistance in changing their birth certificates. He said that Harris' bill would "update a standard that hasn't changed since 1962. We are modernizing this law to keep up with several other states."
Advocates are urging residents concerned about HB 4474 and HB 6073 to file a witness slip to have their viewpoints presented for the Human Services committee. The witness slip for for HB 4474 is at bit.ly/1ZFTYlN, while HB 6073's witness slip is at bit.ly/25rHiDh.