Arizona continues war on preferred pronouns
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to forbidding teachers from calling students by a pronoun that does not match their biological sex.
And they voted to require schools to create "reasonable accommodations'' -- meaning a third choice -- for any student who will not use a restroom designated for his or her sex.
Both bills, having already been approved by the Senate, now go to Gov. Katie Hobbs who may veto them.
The party line votes by the House, with all Republicans in favor, came despite pleas from Democrat lawmakers who asked colleagues to consider the effects.
"I would like to ask that you open yourself to some understanding,'' said Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa, who described herself as the first "nonbinary, gender nonconforming representative.'' And she said none of the Republican lawmakers has even bothered to speak to her about the measure limiting the actions of teachers.
"I can tell you as a young person, if this bill had come through when I was in high school, it would have terrified me,'' Austin said. "I was already terrified of knowing that I would not be accepted in the society as such.''
She called SB 1001 "performative politics'' with no real need or purpose.
No one spoke in favor.
The measure was crafted by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He called it an issue of parental rights, saying it ensures that parents know if their children are identifying themselves by a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
And to back that up, the measure creates an exception if parents give the go-ahead for a teacher or school staffer to use a different pronoun.
That, however, isn't entirely true. A provision in SB 1001 allows a teacher's own personal religious beliefs to override a parent's wishes.
Austin said lawmakers need to understand the implications of children being unable to be referred to by the gender with which they identify.
"It's not worth risking one child's safety,'' she said.
"It's not worth risking one life,'' Austin continued. "We heard so much testimony from people in this community, from young people who were told that if they ever came out they would be harmed, in some cases, even killed.''
The bathroom bill is a scaled-back version of legislation that Kavanagh has been advancing for years.
A decade ago Kavanagh proposed to make it a crime for someone to enter a restroom or locker room that did not match the person's gender. That went nowhere.
What rekindled the debate has been the decision of the Peoria Unified School District to allow all students to use all restrooms and locker rooms. That has caused an uproar among some parents who say they are concerned about the safety of their children.
So rather than try to force students to use the bathroom that matches their gender -- and try to police that -- Kavanagh's SB 1040 says that, on written request, a public school must provide a reasonable accommodation to any person who is, for any reason, unwilling or unable to use a multi-occupancy restroom or changing facility designated for their sex.
That is spelled out to include any single-occupancy or employee restroom or changing facility. But it specifically precludes any facility designed for use by individuals of the opposite sex "while persons of the opposite sex are present or could be present.''
Kavanagh said that would mean blocking off periods of time where those whose biological sex does not match their preferred gender could use the restroom or locker room.
The also says anyone who encounters someone of the opposite sex in a multi-use restroom can sue the school district for monetary damages for psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered, as well as reasonable legal fees and costs.
"This bill is meant to balance the natural, historic sense of modesty that human being have around issues of sex, something which goes back to Adam and Eve hiding behind a bush in the Garden of Eden,'' Kavangh testified earlier this year.
But Kavanagh, under questioning, could not cite a single instance where anyone had been harmed because of the use of a restroom by someone of a different sex.
"I think I've read of some really isolated cases across the country,'' he said.
"But that's not the purpose of this bill,'' Kavanagh said. "Human beings have a natural sense of modesty, particularly female human beings where, in areas of sex, that might be a more compelling need to have.''
On Twitter: @azcapmedia