FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Sixteen-year-old Henry Brousseau put on a coat and tie Thursday to tell a group of state senators where he wants to use the bathroom.
Brousseau was born female, but has identified as a male for the past three years and has become an advocate for other transgender students. Thursday, he spoke against a bill in the state Senate that would have banned transgender students from choosing which bathroom to use at public schools. It’s been a public issue since last year when Louisville’s Atherton High School changed its policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their sexual identity.
The bill failed to pass the Republican-controlled committee by one vote. But it marked what was likely to be the first time state lawmakers have had a substantive discussion about the changing social dynamics in Kentucky’s public schools. Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said the bill might not be dead because lawmakers could reconsider it before the end of session.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. C.B. Embry of Morgantown, would not have forced transgender students to use the bathroom of their biological gender. But it would have required them to use a faculty bathroom or a separate bathroom set aside for them.
“When you walk in somewhere where nobody else goes or have to leave class for extra time to walk into the basement, that opens yourself up to not being a normal kid,” said Brousseau, who attends the Louisville Collegiate, a private school in Louisville. “I don’t feel like I should have to change my life to accommodate their hatred.”
Supporters said the bill was not about hate, but about protecting the privacy of students who would be uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with a transgender student. As Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, was casting his “yes” vote he looked at Brousseau and said he did not hate him.
“I have a child with special needs and, you know, often I expect the school to make accommodations for her,” Carroll said. “I’m also very careful to make sure that the accommodations made for her do not infringe on any other students in the school. … So in my mind it’s balancing out. It’s not hatred. It’s not discrimination. It’s just a balance out and sometimes there is just not a good answer to the things we have to decide.”
Atherton High School Principal Tom Aberli told lawmakers there have been no issues with the new policy and that the “overwhelming majority of our school community” supports it. But Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky, said families had contacted him to ask about suing the school.
“We said ‘No, let the legislature start it,'” he said. “We’re bringing it to the legislature to let you all give guidance to the entire school system.”
It was a mostly party-line vote, with Republicans voting for the bill and Democrats voting against it. The exceptions were Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams, who voted against the bill, and Democratic Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, who did not vote because he said the testimony caused him to rethink his position.
Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr and others expressed sympathy for transgender students, but voted for the bill because, she said, it was not a “black and white issue.”
Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal had no such reservations.
“Henry … unfortunately your situation is still subject to the fear, ignorance and loathing that results from something that some individuals see as different than what they understand and what they embrace,” he said.
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