JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers are considering a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender children in public schools, despite a backlash that North Carolina faced over a broader law limiting bathroom use in all public buildings.
Republican sponsor Sen. Ed Emery said the goal is to protect students' safety and privacy, but parents of transgender children told lawmakers Tuesday that the proposal would put their kids at higher risk of bullying and violence. The bill would require public school students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.
The proposal comes as President Donald Trump's administration is working on a new set of directives on the use of school bathrooms by transgender students. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have urged Trump to safeguard guidelines issued by President Barack Obama's administration that allow students to use school restrooms that match their gender identity.
Emery cited use of high school showers and locker rooms as particularly concerning.
"We get in those situations, and you are inviting abuse," Emery said.
But Samantha DeMichieli, a 13-year-old transgender girl who started crying when she told lawmakers about being bullied, said the prospect of using a different bathroom is "horrifying."
"I'm not in the bathroom to do anything bad, to vandalize or to peek in the stalls," she said. "I'm there to pee and wash my hands."
Missouri is one of 14 states where limits were proposed this year on restrooms, locker rooms and other places based on sex assigned at birth, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Measures have already failed in South Dakota and Virginia. Texas' "bathroom bill" has prompted the NBA to warn that the state could be overlooked for future events.
North Carolina is the only state to pass restrictions on bathroom use, the group says. That law, passed last year, also excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from local and statewide anti-discrimination protections. The law prompted companies, conferences and concerts to shun the state. A federal trial to decide the law's fate is scheduled to begin this summer.
Missouri's proposal would allow schools to provide "alternative" restrooms, showers or locker rooms for transgender students with written parent permission. That could include single-stall bathrooms, unisex bathrooms or access to faculty bathrooms.
Lobbyists for the Christian group Concerned Women for America of Missouri touted Emery's bill as common-sense.
"I don't believe that tolerance means that we have to give up our rights or our freedoms for another group," said lobbyist Alissa Johnson, who has a 17-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
Most people who spoke at Tuesday's packed public hearing were against the bill, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, local LGBT advocacy group PROMO, the Missouri National Education Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Some parents and transgender residents broke down in tears while speaking against the proposal.
It's unclear how Emery's bill will fare, but it faces some challenges. An identical proposal didn't even receive a hearing last year, and it often takes several sessions for legislation to make it to the governor's desk.
Last year, lawmakers debated fiercely over a proposed constitutional amendment for religious protections for those objecting to marriage of same-sex couples. Senate Democrats staged a roughly 37-hour filibuster against it. The proposal later died in a House committee.
About 150,000 people — 0.7 percent— between the ages of 13 and 17 in the United States identify as transgender, according to a study by The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.