The Buzz

SC transgender bathroom bill draws more opponents than support

Grayson Keck, a 13-year-old transgender male student, goes to classes on the second floor at his Columbia school. But when he goes to the bathroom, he is required to use his school nurse’s first-floor restroom.

“I spend most of my time walking up and down the stairs and down the hallway, just to reach the toilet,” Keck told two state senators Wednesday.

Heck was just one of more than a dozen witnesses who testified Wednesday in opposition to a proposal that would ban transgender men and women from using the bathrooms of their choice.

“I do not deserve to have the person I am (be) replaced by someone I don’t want to be,” Keck said. “I do not deserve to be forced to use a restroom where I do not feel safe.”

Two state senators — bill sponsor Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, and bill opponent Joel Lourie, D-Richland — heard from opponents and supporters of the proposal, which mimics part of a North Carolina law that brought a national backlash.

The bill would ban local governments from passing laws allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms or locker rooms of the gender with which they identify.

Bright’s proposal faced a tough uphill fight to become law, considered unlikely this year.

If it passes the Senate’s full General Committee, Lourie vowed to do everything he can, procedurally, to kill the proposal. And, in the Senate, a single member can hold up a bill, particularly as the legislative session winds down.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley also has said the bill is unnecessary, and the state’s powerful Chamber of Commerce opposes it.

However, a handful of supporters testified in favor of the proposal Wednesday.

“God only created two sexes,” said Johnny Gardner, who often protests abortion in the State House lobby. “He created male and female.”

Former Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan said Bright’s proposal is needed to counteract local ordinances that force people to accept the LGBT culture.

But opponents of the proposal outnumbered its supporters.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela and Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams spoke against the proposal.

The proposal would hurt economic development efforts, Benjamin said. It also “empowers harassment and violence.”

“In the City of Florence, our bathrooms are just fine,” Wukela said, adding they don’t require state supervision or regulation.

Greenwood’s Adams said he has heard complaints about dirty city-maintained bathrooms but never heard a complaint about bathroom access.

Former state schools superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said the bill invites harassment of transgender people and violates federal law.

The proposal is personal to some of those who testified.

Ross Scherer, a retired Army veteran and father of a 9-year-old transgender girl, said passing the bill would put his daughter’s safety in jeopardy.

When his daughter dressed up as a princess for Halloween, Scherer said he joined in — dressing up as a princess, too, to support her.

“With this heinous bill, we are being attacked by misinformed people who stand behind their misguided beliefs,” Scherer said.

At one point, about 10 audience members stood up to identify themselves as transgender.

In introducing his bill last week, Bright said he was concerned about the safety of women and girls while they are in a bathroom.

The Upstate conservative told those at the hearing Wednesday he does not think transgender people are pedophiles. Instead, he said he is concerned grown men would violate young women in the restroom.

But U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles testified he could not find a record of any incident in South Carolina in which a transgender person has assaulted another person in a restroom.

Another opponent of the proposal, Capri Culpepper, drew media attention in 2014, when she was told she had to remove her makeup before a driver’s license photo could be taken at the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Culpepper sued, and the state agency since has changed its policy, now allowing driver’s license applicants to be photographed the way they look on a regular basis.

Senators will hear more testimony on the proposal Thursday.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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