By Colleen Jenkins
(Reuters) - A South Carolina measure that would require transgender people to use public bathrooms matching their sex at birth was criticized by civil rights and local government leaders as insensitive and unwarranted at a state Senate hearing on Wednesday.
The bill models one approved last month by North Carolina lawmakers, fueling debate about privacy and equal rights and prompting a backlash from major corporations and entertainers who call the law discriminatory.
Republican Senator Lee Bright has said the measure he proposed in South Carolina is common sense. But most speakers at the subcommittee hearing in Columbia said it defied logic to require transgender people to use restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate rather than the one with which they identify.
"This bill is an undisguised attack on some of our most talented and most vulnerable citizens," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said, adding it would cause irreparable economic damage.
Supporters said opening restrooms and locker rooms to the opposite gender in schools would violate students' right to privacy.
Without such a law, Bright said he feared adult men would use more lenient bathroom policies as an excuse to prey on women and children.
"I don’t believe that transgender people are pedophiles," he added.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles told lawmakers he was unaware of any assaults by transgender people or people pretending to be the opposite sex in South Carolina bathrooms.
A 13-year-old transgender male student said his school in Columbia forced him to use a bathroom in the nurse's office, located on a different floor from his classes. That leads to uncomfortable questions from classmates, he said.
"When you do something that is just the smallest bit abnormal, people are curious," he said.
Republican Governor Nikki Haley said last week the proposed law was unnecessary and unlikely to win legislative approval this year.
Her counterpart in North Carolina, Republican Governor Pat McCrory, on Tuesday moved to change some parts of his state's law with an executive order, including adding protections against discrimination for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
But McCrory and top Republican lawmakers said they would not repeal the bathroom provision despite companies such as PayPal Holdings and Deutsche Bank halting plans to add jobs in the state.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, on Wednesday signed an anti-discrimination order protecting the rights of gay and transgender state employees and employees of state contractors. Edwards said the order was good for business.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Tom Brown)