If Indiana hopes to overcome its reputation for being an anti-LGBT state, 2016 is not shaping up to be a productive year. The state’s top conservative groups are suing to overturn the “fix” tacked onto last spring’s “religious freedom” bill in the hope it will allow them to discriminate against LGBT people in cities where that is prohibited. A Republican-proposed so-called LGBT nondiscrimination bill has so many religious exemptions it wouldn’t actually be enforceable. And now a new bill would actually criminalize transgender people for using the restroom.
Sen. Jim Tomes (R) calls his legislation “a simple bill,” and he’s not wrong. SB 35 does two things. First, it would prohibit schools from ever allowing transgender students from using restrooms that match their gender identity. Students would only be identified by the sex assigned to them at birth as determined by their anatomy and chromosomes, and that sex would determine which facility they can and cannot use.
This would force schools to violate Title IX and discriminate against transgender students. The Department of Education has repeatedly found that schools can not refuse access to transgender students on the basis of their gender identity.
Then, the bill mandates that any transgender person who uses a public sex-specific restroom, locker room, or shower room that matches their gender identity has committed a “single sex public facility trespass,” which it deems a Class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor is the highest non-felony charge in Indiana, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 dollars.
The misdemeanor charge would not apply to a student at a school, a person under the age of 18, or the usage of any private residence facility.
Though his bill erases the validity of transgender and intersex lives by defining individuals according to their chromosomes, Tomes insists his legislation doesn’t target transgender people. “Shouldn’t we also ask about…what about the other sector of society of people that who have all through the decades women been using women’s restrooms and men been using men’s restrooms and kind of like that and kind of expect that level of privacy?”
Tomes’ bill mirrors similar bills introduced in Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and Nevada this past year — none of which passed. All of the measures suggested in one way or another that transgender people’s use of the restroom was a threat to public safety, though all available evidence debunks this myth.
2016 could see a new round of anti-LGBT bills proposed in state legislatures. Despite the backlash for last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Indiana could be poised to lead the way yet again.