South Carolina would ban transgender people from using public bathrooms, showers or changing rooms of their choice under a bill introduced Wednesday in the state Senate.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, said his proposal mimics a law passed last month in North Carolina. That state’s new law also overrules city and county laws protecting the rights of gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women.
Several states have passed laws in recent weeks curbing gay and transgender rights. Mississippi’s governor Tuesday signed into law a bill that allows businesses to refuse service to customers based on the owners’ religious beliefs opposing gay marriage.
S.C. gay and transgender advocates are concerned Bright’s bill could open the door for restrictive laws in the Palmetto State and overrule local laws that protect their job and housing rights in Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
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“This is our worst fear,” said Chase Glenn, chair of the transgender committee for gay and transgender rights group S.C. Equality.
Bright’s bill also could create an unsafe environment for transgender men and women by outing them because they would have to use the bathroom based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, Glenn said.
“Trans men and women are using public restrooms, and people don’t even know it,” the Charleston-area account executive said.
Glenn said he has had no issues using public restrooms since changing his physical appearance to a man more than a year ago.
“If I had to use the women’s room, I would get a lot of really weird looks and probably get yelled at,” Glenn said.
Bright’s proposal does not include a ban on local laws protecting housing and employment rights based on sexual orientation, like North Carolina’s HB2 law. But Bright said he expects his proposal will be amended during a hearing next week.
Bright, one of the staunchest conservatives in the S.C. Senate, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to allow same-sex marriage has led to “an erosion of morals.”
“It used to be they just wanted to be accepted. Now, they want so much more,” he said. “They want what they’re doing promoted. What they want is outside Judeo-Christian ideals of what this country was founded on.”
But there could be a price for states passing anti-gay laws.
Major businesses and sports organizations — including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Walt Disney, the NFL and the NCAA — have joined lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in raising concerns that measures allowing business owners to refuse service, based on their religious beliefs, could legalize discrimination.
North Carolina’s HB2 law has come under fire from both sports and business groups. This week, online payment provider PayPal cited the law to say it had called off plans for a 400-employee expansion in Charlotte.
Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory did what he thought was the right for his state.
But, in South Carolina, Haley said the state’s 16-year-old religious liberty law “has worked just fine.”
“What I will tell you is, in South Carolina, we are blessed because we don’t have to mandate respect or kindness or responsibility,” she told reporters. “I have always thought the citizens of South Carolina are very respectful and very accepting and very kind to everyone. And we’ve never had to deal with those issues in South Carolina.”
Bright’s bill would bar local governments from requiring businesses to accommodate transgender customers or workers who want to use bathrooms of their choosing.
He also proposes requiring government-run parks, museums and schools to designate bathrooms, showers and changing rooms for use only by people based on their biological gender at birth. The bill would apply only to bathrooms and changing rooms used by more than one person at a time.
“Men should use the men’s room, and women should use the women’s room — that’s just common sense,” Bright said. “North Carolina is getting so much flak over what is common sense.”
S.C. gay and transgender advocates said Bright’s bill is unnecessary.
“This is playing into the myth of the bathroom predator,” Glenn said. “This myth have been debunked.”
However, Bright said he is worried about women having to share restrooms with men.
“If you allow people to identify themselves with a different gender in there, you’re putting women in an unsafe situation,” he said.
Staff writer Cassie Cope and the Associated Press contributed
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GOP reining in gay rights?
Republican lawmakers upset about the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage have advanced measures in several states this year to strengthen protections for those who refuse on religious grounds to provide services to same-sex couples. So far, only a few proposals have become law, including protections shielding Florida clergy from having to perform same-sex weddings and college religious organizations in Kansas from losing aid. A look at the proposals:
▪ Mississippi: Despite objections from some major corporations, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law Tuesday a proposal that creates a religious shield from government penalties for people and organizations, including marriage-license clerks, adoption agencies, counselors and businesses that provide wedding-related services. It applies not only to those with religious beliefs opposing gay marriage, but also to those who believe that sex outside marriage is wrong and that sexual identity is determined at birth.
▪ Georgia: Republican Gov. Nathan Deal last week vetoed a religious protection bill passed by the GOP-led House, siding with business executives who threatened boycotts and dire economic consequences.
▪ Virginia: A GOP-passed bill shielding clergy and religious groups from participating in gay marriages was vetoed last week by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who cited opposition from corporate leaders.
▪ Tennessee: A coalition, including the American Counseling Association, launched an ad campaign against the GOP House speaker over a bill that would let counselors turn away patients based on religious beliefs. The ad warns: "Businesses won't come to a state that discriminates."
▪ Missouri: Activists rallied at the Capitol to protest a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit penalties against those who decline on religious grounds to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples. The state chamber of commerce opposes the idea.
The Associated Press