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$50 Fine for Using the "Wrong" Restroom?

Virginia may soon be in the national spotlight over a bill introduced by Delegate Mark Cole, a Republican from the area around Fredericksburg.  If the measure is approved, school boards would have to adopt a policy requiring kids to use restrooms designated for their anatomical gender.  Critics say Cole is being cruel to transgendered children.  Sandy Hausman has more on that story.

Under federal law, it’s illegal to discriminate against students because they’re male or female, and the American Civil Liberties Union says that also applies to transgender children, so the director of Virginia’s office, Claire Gastenaga, is dismayed by several bills drafted by state lawmakers.

“We now have, already introduced, a spate of mean-spirited bills that are intended to do nothing but make it impossible to adopt transgender inclusive policies both for employment and in schools,” she says.

But Delegate Mark Cole defends his decision to try and restrict access to restrooms based on anatomy.  He would require school boards and state agencies to adopt a policy fining violators $50, and he says his constituents view this as a legitimate problem.

“In Heartwood Elementary School a boy who dresses as a girl wanted to start using the girls’ restroom," Cole recalls. "Parents got upset about that  and were concerned that this was an invasion on the privacy rights of their girls, and I agree with them.  Why should a young girl be subjected to having to share facilities with a boy?”

Critics say self-image is a complicated matter -- that children cannot be defined solely by anatomy, and Gastenaga says enforcement would necessitate physical inspections. 

“You know what we want to know is who’s going to be doing the inspections?" Gastenaga jokes. "It’s hard to take them seriously, because they’re so clearly defined by animus and hysteria and not by common sense and not by any measure of tolerance.”

But Cole insists the rule could easily be enforced without invading a child’s privacy.

“I would expect that it would be on a complaint basis," he explains. "I am confident that women will complain if they see a male using the facilities and probably vice versa, so it does not require that anybody check their genitalia.  You can do it either by looking at school records or even birth certificates.”

He says the bill would also protect school districts from lawsuits, but Gastenaga believes courts will side with transgender people in the years to come – ruling that it’s discriminatory to bar them from the bathroom where they believe they belong.