Local students to protest against transgender bathroom bill on Sunday

A group of Lawrence students are taking to the streets this weekend in protest of a Kansas bill that would require transgender students in public schools to use the restrooms associated with their gender at birth.

The bill, introduced in January by Republican Rep. John Whitmer of Wichita, would also apply to locker rooms in schools as well as accommodations for students on overnight trips.

He and other proponents argue that the bill would protect students and their privacy. But Viveca Price, a junior at Lawrence High School and one of two student organizers behind Sunday’s protest in South Park, sees the proposed legislation as a direct attack on the rights of transgender students.

“It’s wrong and it puts people at risk,” Price told the Journal-World. “It’s just discrimination.”

Price, though not transgender herself, has friends who identify as such. She’s concerned that Whitmer’s bill would make transgender students targets for bullying. As part of the measure, schools would also have the option to create “alternative facilities” for transgender students.

Similar bills were proposed in the state House and Senate last year, but both died in committee. Whitmer’s newest piece of legislation, unlike older versions that addressed all public buildings, focuses solely on K-12 public schools.

“We’re just talking K-12 and all we’re doing is we’re saying, ‘Boys to boys, girls to girls and a reasonable accommodation for anybody who needs it.’ That’s it,” Whitmer told the Topeka Capital-Journal last month.

But for transgender students, Price argues, it’s not that simple. For many transgender youths, who already face a disproportionately high risk of suicide compared with the rest of the population, according to a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, school can act as a refuge — particularly, she said, for those who may not feel accepted at home.

“This is just something that a lot of people don’t understand,” Price said. Without the refuge of school, she said, “it could feel like there’s not a lot of places to go in terms of, ‘I don’t feel safe; where do I go?'”

Price, who belongs to her school’s Total Equality Alliance, said she and fellow club members visited with the Lawrence school board last week to discuss issues facing LGBT youth. Whitmer’s proposed bill, she said, was one of those issues. She said the school district seems to be following the legislation closely.

Part of the school district’s upcoming bond issue is the addition of gender-neutral locker rooms and restrooms at Lawrence’s middle schools and high schools. Before any construction can begin, though, voters must first approve the $87 million projects (gender-neutral renovations account for a fraction of the total budget) in a May bond election. For now, some teachers at LHS have converted their staff restrooms into gender-neutral facilities, Price said.

Price expects most of her friends to attend this weekend’s protest, which will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday in South Park before the march through downtown Lawrence at 7:30 p.m. She also expects a few community members to attend, too, and hopes the protest will, at the very least, get people talking.

“That’s step one,” Price said. “I think it’s always good to call your state officials. Just show up, and you have to be willing to listen to what the other person’s saying.”

For more information on the protest, visit the “Fight for Trans Rights” event page on Facebook.