Helena, Mont. (AP) – Montana schools can’t punish students who intentionally misgender or name their transgender peers, under a Republican bill that opponents say would increase stigma against children who already struggle to be accepted.
The proposal, sponsored by more than two dozen GOP lawmakers, would declare that using the legal name of a transgender classmate or referring to them based on their birth gender is not discrimination. Schools are prevented from adopting policies to punish students who do so.
It comes as a wave of legislation is emerging this year in Montana and other conservative states seeking to limit or ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. The Montana Senate passed a ban on sex-related medical or surgical assistance to minors on Wednesday.
But the no-nonsense, no-name proposal appears to be the only existing legislation in the country, said Olivia Hunt, policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“It makes Montana unique in having the right to be bigoted or the right to bully trans kids in state code,” Hunt said.
The proposal does not apply to teachers, but some states are considering bills that would protect the right of teachers to refer to students by their first name and gender.
The lead sponsor, Rep. Brandon Lehr, said during Wednesday’s hearing that his children, who live on a farm and ranch, “have learned from a young age that a cow is a cow and a cow is a bull” and is not open to interpretation.
“Kids shouldn’t be forced to call someone something they’re not,” Lehr said.
Opponents agreed that students who accidentally use the wrong name or name should not be penalized, but said schools should still be required to respond to misgendering and fatal naming as part of anti-bullying policies. Refusing to recognize a transgender student’s name and preferred pronouns is tantamount to bullying, said SK Rossi, who testified on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign.
“The problem with the bill is that it takes away the ability of schools, teachers and administrators to intervene when something becomes violent, before it gets physical,” Rossi said.
According to Emily Dean, director of advocacy for the Montana School Boards Association, the issue of punishment for misgendering or naming a death does not appear to be a problem in Montana. He said that he did not know about any student who was punished for such actions.
Max Finn, a transgender high school senior from Missoula, said he faced backlash from peers, including rude comments about him and being tripped up in the hallways, even though his teachers tried to discourage it.
“If my teachers can’t or don’t intervene, it gets a lot worse,” Finn said.
Representatives of educational organizations, pediatricians, parents of transgender children and students testified against the bill, saying it would cause unprecedented harassment, as well as anxiety and depression among transgender students.
Layla Riggs told lawmakers about protecting friends who are transgender or gender non-conforming because of abuse. Someone once threw a rock at him and a non-binary friend after class, he said.
“School should be a place where you feel welcome and a place where your safety should be a top priority,” Riggs said. “With the passage of this bill, even the illusion of safety for transgender and non-binary students will disappear.”
A 2022 survey by The Trevor Project found that 45% of LGBTQ youth had seriously considered a suicide attempt in the past year, but those who received social or school support reported lower rates.
Jeff Lasloffi with the Montana Family Foundation told lawmakers his group supports the measure because it prevents students from facing civil lawsuits for using the wrong name or names. He was the only proponent to testify at the hearing, which ended without lawmakers voting on the measure.
Richard Shade told lawmakers that his 9-year-old stepson was bullied every day without intervention from school officials.
“It shows that the stated purpose of (the bill) is to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and the real purpose is to send a message to trans kids that they deserve to be bullied for who they are,” he said. said
During his testimony against the bill, Montana Pride President Kevin Hamm deliberately misrepresented Lasloffi and a male lawmaker who previously sought to block opposition arguments that the bill would lead to harassment. Hamm said he wanted to hear “her” thoughts on the matter.
“Does she think inappropriateness isn’t a bullying tactic?” Hamm asked.
At this point, House Judiciary Committee Representative Amy Reger interrupted: “Please don’t attack the other witnesses.”
“Oh, sorry,” Hamm replied. “Is it insulting and assault? Then you understand what this law will do. Thanks for proving my point. Don’t put a tool of abuse into the law.”
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