Mississippi lawmakers have proposed new legislation that would ensure teachers cannot be disciplined if they refuse to respect a transgender student’s gender identity. This “license to harass” is the first bill of its kind in the country.
HB 1176 would update state law determining how school employees may be disciplined, adding specific language prohibiting their dismissal or suspension “for referring to any individual student’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
School employees would be barred from being disciplined “despite the student’s preference to identify as the opposite gender after undergoing stages of transition as a pansexual, transsexual or transgender, whether through sex reassignment, gender identity transitioning, hormonal therapy treatment or other philosophical processes.”
The proposed measure also clarifies that schools cannot force an employee to comply with a directive to respect a student’s identity if it violates that employee’s “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
The bill reiterates the full text of Mississippi’s unique “license to discriminate” law passed in 2016. That measure created broad protections for people who refuse to provide service because they oppose same-sex marriage or oppose sex outside of man-woman marriage, or because they reject the legitimacy of transgender identities. The law was challenged in court, but upheld on a technicality.
The proposed bill is likely a response to multiple high-profile incidents around the country in which teachers and school officials have been disciplined for disrespecting trans students.
An Indiana orchestra teacher resigned, for example, rather than follow his school’s policy requiring that he respect trans students’ identities; a Virginia French teacher was fired for repeatedly misgendering one of his students; and a West Virginia assistant principal was suspended for policing a student’s bathroom use. Additionally, a professor at a state university in Ohio filed a lawsuit after being disciplined for misgendering one of his students, claiming his free speech was violated.
There are very good reasons for the enforcement of these school policies. Research shows that transgender children demonstrate a strong sense of identity at a very young age, and their mental health can be significantly affected by the way people around them respond to their identity. A 2018 study, for example, found that trans kids’ mental health improves measurably when they are properly addressed by their chosen names and pronouns.
GLSEN’s biennial school climate study recently found that safety has plateaued for LGBTQ students across the country. Students still overwhelmingly hear anti-LGBTQ remarks or face discrimination and censorship for discussing their identities or advocating for themselves. As a result, LGBTQ students miss more school, have lower GPAs, and experience higher rates of depression and low self-esteem.
Now Mississippi wants to blatantly encourage its teachers to contribute to that toxic environment without consequence.