Future of transgender bathroom bill unclear

Sen. Lee Bright asks questions from members of the public during hearings and rallies against a Senate bill that would end transgender men and women using the bathrooms of their choice Wednesday in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — A Columbia senator all but guaranteed the death of a bill that would require transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.

“I would like to bring it to the full committee and dispose of it right away,” Sen. Joel Lourie, a Democrat, said during a second hearing Thursday on the measure. “I am going to do everything procedurally possible to ensure that this bill does not pass this year.”

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.

More than 20 people, both in support of and against the bill, spoke during a more-than-two-hour hearing Thursday afternoon. The bill also would ban municipalities from passing laws expanding the use of gender-designated public restrooms to transgender people.

“When issues like this come along we have to take an analytical approach — I think, a scholarly approach — and see what it really says and what it really does,” said Oran Smith, president and CEO of the Palmetto Family Council. “The most significant (concern) is young girls who may have men in their shower room.”

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.

South Carolina native and former Utah Rep. Christine Johnson said “cultural competency” of the LGBT community does not exist in the state. She called the bill unnecessary and potentially costly in both lost business and discrimination lawsuits for the state.

“I understand that the sponsors have members of the body pinned between a rock and a hard place because they’ve been led to believe that they’re voting on something that improves community safety,” she said.

“But if these sponsors had proposed legislation to prohibit monsters from underneath the beds of South Carolinians, this bill will hold no greater merit because in both cases the problem is an imagined fear,” said Johnson, a Democrat and gay-rights advocate.

Lourie said General Committee Chairman Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, has not said if the bill will be on next week’s agenda. Bryant is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The subcommittee, consisting of Lourie and Bright, took testimony to pass to the full committee.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.