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Arizona Republicans' latest idea: school showers only with those with your same genitalia

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to forbid public school from letting students shower with anyone other than those who have the same sex organs.
But foes said this is a problem that really doesn't exist. And beyond that, they said the remedy offered for transgender students whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex -- a private place to shower -- is likely unworkable as schools simply don't have such facilities.
SB 1182 spells out that schools must limit shower facilities to those of the same sex. And it defines that "as determined by anatomy, physiology, genetics and hormones existing at the time of the person's birth.''
The proposal given preliminary House approval on Wednesday says that schools must provide a "reasonable accommodation'' for those who, for any reason, are unwilling or unable to use a multi-person showed designated for that sex. And the student also would have to submit "satisfactory evidence of the person's sex to the school.''
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who crafted the proposal, said it's a way of protecting the privacy of students yet still accommodate transgender youths.
That accommodation is defined as either access to a single-occupancy shower room or use of a shower room reserved for employees.
But Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, D-Tucson, who teaches physical education at Tucson High School, said there's a flaw in all of that.
"We do not have private showers in the school that I teach at, nor have I ever seen private showers in a public school,'' she told colleagues. Nor, Gutierrez said, are there shower facilities for staff.
"We don't have enough keys to go around for every teacher to even have a key to a staff bathroom,'' she said.
Kavanagh, who was not part of the House debate on Wednesday, told Capitol Media Services afterwards that he doesn't see a problem.
"They could designate a single sex group shower for use by certain students who do not align with their biological sex,'' he said. What that means, Kavanagh said, is setting aside times for each student whose biology does not align with their gender identification to use one of the multi-occupancy showers.
What's lost in all of this, said Rep. Patty Contreras, D-Phoenix, is what she said is the larger question of having students shower together at all.
"I don't know anyone who likes showering next to a naked stranger, regardless of their sex,'' she said. "I would be surprised if anyone in this body liked showering in front of their peers in high school -- or even today, for that matter.''
Contreras said it would be different if there was no link to sex.
"If this bill simply said that if a person requests a private shower space that must be provided, then I would support it,'' she said. "I would think that every student would request a private shower.''
But it's less than clear whether any student could request a private shower -- even if there is one available -- given the wording of the legislation. That goes to the requirement to provide proof of sex, what Rep. Maria Sandoval, D-Goodyear, called a "show me your papers to shower'' provision.
Rep. Seth Blattman, D-Mesa, said Republicans have "an obsession with sexual organs.'' He pointed out that Kavanagh also is the sponsor of another measure which would require schools to notify parents if a student seeks to be addressed by a pronoun that differs from his or her biological sex.
Kavanagh said he accepts the label, but not in the way that Blattman suggests.
"I am obsessed with our children, especially our young teenage girls, not being in school showers and locker rooms where the sexual organs of members of the opposite sex are on display,'' he said.
That issue of genitalia also figured into how Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, the mother of three girls, said she sees the issue.
"There have been young girls that have been victimized in bathrooms, and even by young men who use this as a loophole to enter a woman's bathroom and potentially harm a girl,'' she said.
"So for me, if there's even the slightest chance that someone, a male with a male part, could go into the locker room where my daughters are getting dressed between PE or whatever, and start to undress in front of them, and show their male part to my youngest daughter who's going to be going into middle school next year, I do not want to even take that chance of something like that happening to any of my daughters,'' Jones said.
That drew a reaction from Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa, who is non-binary,
"I don't agree with the comparison of sexual predation amongst this community and being labeled as such,'' Austin said.
"I think it's dangerous, it's harmful,'' Austin said, adding that if lawmakers are focused on this "there is a documented sexual predator running for president of the United States.''
Gutierrez said the legislation appears to be more about politics than an actual problem. She said students don't shower after gym because there simply isn't the time before they need to be in their next class.
Rep. Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, said the decision is even more basic than that.
"Students are not forced to shower in Arizona schools,'' she said. "And most students choose not to shower if the only option is a multi-occupancy facility because it's uncomfortable to be naked in front of your classmates, regardless of their gender.''
What's really behind the bill, said Terech, is "this misinformed narrative that transgender students are a threat to their classmates.
"The data shows the opposite is true,'' she said. "They are among the most vulnerable of Arizona's kids, being more susceptible to bullying, abuse and mental health related consequences of being mistreated.''
Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, acknowledged that students may not shower after gym classes. But he said it remains a real issue.
"When you have after-school activities and you have a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old freshman in high school coming to participate in an after-school volleyball event, and then you have another person that's 19 or 20 that's transgender and walking into the same showers because he's participating in something else after school, I just think it's pretty black and white that you should be able to have reasonable accommodations for both sides,'' he said.
The legislation still needs a final roll call vote. The Senate already has approved the bill in a slightly different form.
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