Senators want to reverse Berkeley County Schools' decision on transgender bathroom use

A Berkeley County School Board meeting on May 10. (WCIV file)

A pair of Berkeley County senators want to undo the school district's decision to let transgender students use the bathroom they identify with.

Sens. Larry Grooms and Paul Campbell introduced a bill Tuesday that would force students to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to the gender on their birth certificate, or use an alternate bathroom. Berkeley County senators passed two readings of the bill Wednesday.

Grooms said he hopes it will go for a third reading Thursday. If it passes it will then to the House where it will be discussed by Berkeley County representatives. Ultimately it would have to be signed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

The bill comes a couple of weeks after Berkeley County School District officials told at least one transgender girl she could use the girls bathrooms.

Grooms said up until 90 days ago, all school districts followed the same policy. "Boys use the boys room, girls use the girls room" and anyone who didn't feel comfortable with that could contact the principal and use a faculty bathroom.

He said the Berkeley County superintendent's decision "set off a firestorm" in Berkeley County.

"There's great uncertainty right now," Grooms said. "Uncertainty causes fear and there are a lot of parents concerned about what that policy might be. "

The Berkeley County School Board on May 10 listened to heated discussion about the issue. Board members eventually decided to let students use the bathroom with which they identify on a case by case basis.

The White House last week directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Grooms said his bill would set what the policy should be next school year.

Grooms also represents parts of Charleston County but said he did not file a bill for that county "because there's a policy in place. There's not uncertainty."

Grooms' bill bypassed the committee process because it's directed toward a single county. Democrats unsuccessfully challenged its local status, allowing it to pass Wednesday solely by the county's two Republican senators, according to the Associated Press.

Its chances in the House are far less certain, especially since just seven days remain in the legislative session.

Opponents of bathroom bills quickly issued a statement condemning the measure by Grooms and Campbell.

Citing Sen. Lee Bright's failed attempt at a statewide bathroom bill, Melissa Moore, the executive director of We Are Family, called the new bill "another baseless attack on transgender people."

"This time lawmakers are going after young people by pushing a bill that specifically withholds fair and appropriate accommodations for transgender students in Berkeley County," Moore said. "Bills like this one have been introduced around the country based on claims that they are needed for public safety, but it is transgender people whose safety is at risk. People do not need to be protected from the transgender community. In fact, when Senator Bright introduced his bill he admitted that there have been no problems reported."

Moore goes on to say that bathroom bills fuel a climate that creates violence and disrespect directed at transgender students.

"Introducing legislation like this is a waste of time when lawmakers could and should be advancing policies that help people in our state. We should be doing more to ensure that every student in our state has a safe place to go to school, a learning environment where they can thrive, and a safe home to return to night," she said.

The discussion over transgender bathroom use began in North Carolina, which passed a law preventing local governments from allowing people to use restrooms that did not correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.

Since then, a number of businesses and entertainers have boycotted the state.

At least one senator on Wednesday predicted the same could happen in industry-rich Berkeley County, which is home to both Google, Volvo, and Blackbaud, who just announced Wednesday it was expanding its headquarters, adding 300 jobs and a $154 million into the county.

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