Montana lawmakers amend proposed transgender harassment bill

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana lawmakers on Thursday amended a proposed bill that opponents criticized as letting students avoid punishment for intentionally misgendering or deadnaming their transgender peers.

Under the changed legislation, schools would be allowed to discipline those who refer to transgender students by their birth name or birth gender when such behavior rises to the level of bullying.

Opponents argued that the modified bill just creates a gray area that allows harassment and leaves schools with no way to discipline it until it meets the state’s legal definition of bullying.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the amended legislation 13-6, a day after hearing from dozens of opponents who testified that the measure would increase bullying and harassment of students already struggling to fit in.

The bill declares that misgendering and deadnaming of transgender students by their classmates is not illegal discrimination.

Its sponsor, Rep. Brandon Ler, has said he did not intend to allow bullying of transgender students, and he supported the amendment. During Wednesday’s hearing he argued that “Children should not be forced to call somebody something they’re not.”

Democratic Rep. Laura Smith, a committee member who opposed the legislation, said that under the amended bill, students could harass transgender students until the behavior rises “to a secondary standard of bullying, and without that you can’t address it.”

Kevin Hamm, president of Montana Pride, also said the amendment does not fix the proposed measure.

“Putting something in there that says, ‘Oh, I can’t get in trouble for using your deadname or misgendering you because it’s on your legal paperwork,’ is still an attack on trans people and will be used as an attack on trans people,” he said.

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