COLUMBIA — About 10 transgender men and women stood before two state senators Thursday morning and told them a proposed bill that would require them to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate would cause more harm than good.
Opponents of the bill said its passage would force many “passable” transgender people to “out” themselves and would likely lead to higher instances of suicide and depression among a group that already has a high rate of those who take their own lives.
Grayson Keck, a 13-year-old transgender boy from Columbia, told senators the bill “victimizes the innocent.” Grayson said he shouldn’t be forced to use the girls bathroom where he does not feel safe.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be born in a shell that doesn’t match your interior spirit,” he said. “Please don’t do this to my community and please don’t do this to me.”
Grayson’s friend, 17-year-old Dex Sexton, who also is transgender, pleaded with senators to oppose the bill. He asked why men who are known to have molested young boys are allowed to continue using the men’s bathroom but a transgender man would not be allowed under the proposed law.
About 20 people spoke during the two-hour hearing, including mayors from Columbia, Greenwood and Florence; former Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan; former S.C. Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum; and representatives from various organizations.
Johnny Gardner, director of Voice of the Unborn, said he would fear for the safety of his wife and grandchildren if men were allowed in women’s bathrooms to potentially assault them.
“I would be just as offended if I was in the bathroom with my grandboy and some woman who doesn’t know she’s a woman tries to come in,” he said. “I would try to stop them even if it’s legal because God’s law is higher than man’s law.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Lee Bright of Roebuck, has said previously that the bill is about the safety of women in restrooms where men could cause them harm.
The legislation directs South Carolina’s public schools, public universities and government agencies to require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex. South Carolina is among a majority of states that allow a person who has had a sex change to obtain a new birth certificate.
U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said he was asked by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, to talk at the hearing about the number of instances in which a transgender person had assaulted a straight person in a South Carolina bathroom. “There have been none,” he said, adding that if it were to happen there are laws in place that deal with assault.
Bright said that even though only a handful of people spoke in support of his bill Wednesday morning, he’s heard from several Upstate residents who agree with him.
“I’m still very supportive of the bill,” he said. “I’m sympathetic. But I think if a woman or a child is in the restroom, they shouldn’t have to deal with the fact that a man believes he has the right to walk in there because he identifies himself as that gender that day.”
Several opponents of the bill expressed frustration with Bright’s assertion that men would be transgender “for a day,” saying transitioning isn’t something that’s done on a whim.
Charleston resident Chase Glenn, who chairs the transgender committee for the gay and transgender rights group SC Equality, transitioned from a woman to a man. He said he has used the men’s bathroom for the past year and never experienced any problems with those upset he was in there.
“This law, which is unenforceable, protects no one,” Glenn said. “All it does is it serves to draw attention to trans people. Even the very introduction of this bill has highlighted this community and put a target on them.”
Opponents of the bill also gathered outside the Statehouse on Wednesday afternoon for a rally where attendees held signs that read “Don’t criminalize my gender,” “Being trans is not a crime” and “Lee Bright is obsessed with your pee pee.”
“There is so often cases where our liberty and justice is being trampled on,” Columbia resident Dayna Smith, a transgender woman, said during the rally. “There are so many people like Lee Bright that believe that liberty and justice are solely the purview of white, straight, Republican men.”
Lourie, who joined Bright on the subcommittee, began and ended the hearing saying that he is completely against the bill and will do everything in his power to keep it from becoming law.
“I personally was so moved hearing those children, those young middle-school students,” Lourie said. “To see these children, who are transgender, come before and have the courage and the bravery to speak before this committee — I’ll fight until my last day to protect their rights.”
Bright and Lourie will meet again Thursday afternoon to hear more testimony before the bill goes before the Senate General Committee, likely next week.
Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.