Students from the newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance Club in Cleveland, Tennessee visited their local lawmakers to voice concerns over a bathroom bill. The proposed legislation would require public school students to use the restroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.
The bill would directly affect transgender sophomore Chase Howard who said classmates come up to him and ask, “’Are you a boy or a girl?’ And I tell them, I’m a boy, and they're like, ‘No you're not.’”
Asked if he is worried about how the bill would affect him going to the restroom Howard said, “I am actually terrified. Because there’s a lot of danger that I could put myself into- whichever bathroom I go into.”
In the Capitol building, the nervous but excited students met with State Senator Mike Bell, a Republican whose district includes Athens and Etowah. Kat McKay, a senior student leader, started the discussion by asking Senator Bell how he feels about the bathroom bill.
I carried it last year. I'm a strong supporter of it. And I think it opens the door to which there will be no end. Did y’all see on the news where there was a transgender person arrested in Oregon this past summer? And it was a he...he demanded to be placed in a female prison. After three months they had to take him out because he was having sex with all the female prisoners.
Senator Bell appears to have been referring to a story in Breitbart News. A transgender woman, Paris Green, was arrested for murder- in Scotland. The report that she was moved to a male prison because she was having sex with other inmates has not been confirmed by officials. The report does not mention bathroom usage.
Senator Bell asked the students how transgender is defined. “Is it how I feel on Monday? I feel different on Tuesday? Wednesday I might feel like a dog.”
Mckay asked if Senator Bell’s gender presentation is male, to which Bell responded, “It's my DNA. It doesn't matter what I present myself as. It's my DNA. It's science.”
GSA President and senior, Patrick Pyott, spoke up to explain gender identity to his elected official. “With transgender people, like you said it's in the DNA. Psychology shows it’s how their brain works.” But Senator Bell was not swayed. “What you've said there, I have never seen any science to back that up. None.” He continued, “I've had countless discussions with doctors- my office mate is a doctor who thinks its all hogwash.”
Senator Bell cut the meeting short. As the students filed out of his office, several were visibly crying.
They walked to another office and met with Kevin Brooks, a Republican from Bradley County. Representative Brooks first thanked them for coming, saying they had incredible courage and bravery.
Unlike Senator Bell, Representative Brooks seemed skeptical of the bathroom bill. Brooks said he doesn’t think the bill will come out of committee: “If it does I probably will not- will not support it.” The Representative said he has not heard from school superintendents or constituents that Bradley County has an issue with bathroom use. “It seems to be a divisive solution, in search of a problem.”
On the long bus ride back to Cleveland, GSA President Pyott talked about their first meeting with Senator Bell.
I still cannot get over how he said transgender people are hogwash. Like I cannot get over that still. Like that is not okay. To be that official, that high up, show that leadership. And say, yeah you over there, you're hogwash. Just so you know. You are worth nothing.
The students got a call from Senator Brooks’ legislative assistant who told them that the bathroom bill didn’t make it out of committee. The bill’s original sponsor, Representative Mark Pody, withdrew it. The bus erupted in celebration and screams of “the bill is dead!”
But the bathroom bill is not dead.
Representative Pody plans to change some language and then reintroduce the bathroom bill - during this session.