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Safety, discrimination focus of concerns over proposed restroom restrictions

Does the right to privacy supersede the right to equality?

That was the highly contentious debate the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee heard Tuesday at its last regularly scheduled meeting of the session.

HF3396, the so-called “Individual Right to Privacy and Safety in Public Accommodations Act” would amend the Human Rights Act to provide definitions governing public restrooms based exclusively on biological sex assigned at birth. The bill would require public spaces such as businesses, hotels and restaurants to prohibit admittance to restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and other similar facilities based on any other self-identification criteria. It also maintains that public schools and universities must adhere to the same standard.

“This bill protects the privacy and public safety of adults both in our society and schools,” said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe), who sponsors the bill. “[The bill] is based on objective standards of biology and not on feelings.”

Dr. Katherine Spencer, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health Program at the University of Minnesota, testifies before the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee April 12 in opposition to a bill sponsored by Rep. Glen Gruenhagen, left, that would clarify Human Rights Act provisions governing gender specific accommodations. Photo by Andrew VonBank

No action was taken at the informational hearing. A companion, SF3002, sponsored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gruenhagen said the bill’s inspiration came from concerns constituents have expressed to him.

Exceptions within the bill include minor children accompanied by their parent or legal guardian of the opposite sex up until age 9, disabled persons accompanied by a designated caretaker, bona fide custodial staff after an announcement of presence prior to entry, and a person entering during an emergency when practicable.

Numerous testifiers on both sides of the issue spoke to the committee, holding lengthy discussions regarding their opposing viewpoints.

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), the committee chair, expressed the need for the state to have the particular discussion in the wake of recently enacted law in North Carolina that prohibits local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules that would grant protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and men.

Because of the law, Gov. Mark Dayton last week issued a directive “that all state employees cease all nonessential state business travel to North Carolina until further notice.”  


Staying Safe

Golden Valley parent Anne Taylor testifies before the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee April 12 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, left, that would clarify Human Rights Act provisions governing gender specific accommodations. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Proponents expressed concern that there are seemingly no safeguards in place for potentially dangerous people to use any public restroom facility they please under the guise of self-identification of another sex.

Testifiers maintained that the right to privacy is a pertinent one, and without the bill’s added definitions, people have circumvented previous court precedents and sued on the basis of sexual discrimination under protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

It’s not about discrimination, they say, it’s about safety.“I am not against transgender people simply because I want my safety protected,” said Kate Ives.

“The goal is protecting the privacy and health of everyone,” said James Ballentine of the North Star Law and Policy Center. “Ensuring single-sex access to restrooms is not discrimination. This statute will simply back that up.”


Denying discrimination

Opponents said the bill’s “biological sex” definition standard was vague, pointing to further research in gender dysphoria. Many alleged that the bill would further promote sexual discrimination and could contribute to harassment and violence.

It wouldn’t catch more criminals, they say, it would only deny equal rights and further perpetuate discrimination.

WATCH Committee debate of the bill on YouTube

“This is not a good bill. Fear does not equal danger — the ‘whites only’ bathrooms were justified by fear and privacy concerns,” said Rep. Barb Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview). “It would be absolutely unenforceable in public accommodations … and puts people at risk of being targeted, beaten up or killed. This tells transgender people that you don’t have a place in our society.”

“Transgender people are used to being told they don’t belong, and that others need to be protected from them,” said Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU of Minnesota. “But instead of fighting that discrimination, bills like this contribute to it. It’s time for us to embrace all members of our community by rejecting legislation based on rhetoric.”


Important implications

Whether the bill would promote discrimination and prohibit equal rights were strong concerns among several committee members.

“I think this bill is discrimination and wrong for Minnesota,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center). “Transgender people have human rights like the rest.”

Enforcement of the restrictions, as well as individual business owner rights to specifically accommodate transgender people was also discussed. The bill would essentially prohibit any business establishment from otherwise specifically accommodating any transgender person.

“There are no enforcement provisions regarding due process or anything else,” said Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul). “When we at the Legislature mandate regulation, and then do not provide a regulation mechanism, what happens is you get mob regulation and tattletale reporting. I don’t think that creates good policy, no matter what the subject matter. This is a proposal based on fear.”

No committee members spoke explicitly for the bill, but Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater) expressed satisfaction and gratitude toward the dialogue the committee had accomplished.

“We may not have solved anything today, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to have this discussion,” she said.

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