Mississippi bill would limit where transgender people can use bathrooms in public buildings

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday in favor of a measure that would restrict transgender people’s use of bathrooms and locker rooms in public buildings, including university dormitories.

The bill, which now goes back to the Republican-led Senate, says people are either male or female “as observed or clinically verified at birth” and must use the corresponding facilities. It also requires that public buildings have restrooms or changing areas designated for men only or women only, or single-person spaces that may be used by anyone.

Democrats who opposed the measure accused conservatives of marginalizing transgender people to try to score points with voters.

“They used to run on race, colors, and all of that,” said Rep. Willie Bailey, a Democrat from Greenville. “Then they started running against people on abortion. Now they’ve got to have an issue on transgender — it’s just silly.”

The bill is one of several being considered in state legislatures across the U.S. as Republicans try to restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use and which sports they can play.

Republican Rep. Joey Hood of Ackerman, chairman of the Mississippi House Judiciary A Committee and a prominent backer of the bill, said it aims to ensure people are using facilities that align with their sex at birth.

“We’re going to make sure boys go to boys’ bathrooms, girls go to girls’ bathrooms,” Hood said, an argument he made several times during the debate.

The bill would allow a person to sue another who uses a restroom or changing area that does not match their sex at birth.

It also establishes exceptions for emergency medical and cleaning workers and people who need assistance, including children younger than 12. They would be allowed to enter any public restroom or locker room regardless of gender.

Democratic Rep. Zakiya Summers of Jackson, who is Black, compared efforts to limit transgender people’s access to public facilities to restrictions that Black people faced during the Jim Crow era.

“It reminded me of what my ancestors had to deal with at a time when they couldn’t go in the bathroom, either, and they wouldn’t dare stick their toe in a pool,” Summers said.

At least 11 states have passed laws barring transgender girls and women from girls and women’s bathrooms at public schools, and in some cases other government facilities. The laws have taken effect in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee, while an Idaho ordinance is on hold and Utah’s prohibition is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The Mississippi House and Senate have passed different versions of a “Mississippi Women’s Bill of Rights,” which defines the terms woman, man, mother, father, female, male and sex in ways that support the idea that sex is defined at birth. The two chambers would need to agree on a single version before the bill could go to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

In March the House voted for a measure that would have let incarcerated people sue jails or prisons if they encounter inmates of another sex — the bill included transgender people among that category — in restrooms or changing areas. However, the bill died in a Senate committee.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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