Republicans push bill to keep transgender people from changing restrooms

Several Republican state lawmakers are renewing their push to define who can use which bathrooms in Minnesota schools and workplaces.

They're supporting legislation that would require transgender people to use restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. It would also prevent employers from deviating from the rules.

Opponents, including Gov. Mark Dayton, say the proposal is discriminatory.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said his bill would protect the privacy and public safety of all Minnesotans. During a news conference, he explained that the inspiration came from a constituent who told him about a male co-worker who began identifying as a woman and using the women's restroom.

"This, according to my female constituent, caused great anxiety, discomfort and fear for her and other women," he said. "They complained to the employer, and the remedy, according to my constituent, was to tape the cracks of the bathroom stalls shut to prevent anyone from seeing in."

Gruenhagen did not identify the constituent or her place of employment. Instead, he presented other bill supporters who shared similar privacy concerns that were also short on specifics. Emily Zinos of St. Paul claimed that "gender activists" had pressured her child's former charter school to consider mixed bathrooms.

"Parents deserve to know that their children are safe at school and that policies that put boys in girls' bathrooms are dangerous," Zinos said.

The bill would prevent claims of sexual identity from overriding a person's right to privacy. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, insisted that the bathroom rules would not be discriminatory.

Newman said transgender people who oppose the bill have been sending him crude and threatening messages. "All that does for me is to strengthen my resolve that I'm going to protect my constituents and those I believe to be in the majority," he said.

Opponents are also resolved. Monica Meyer, executive director of the group Outfront Minnesota, said the bill is trying to solve a safety problem that doesn't exist. Meyer said the proposal would also weaken the state's strong anti-discrimination laws.

"This legislation is about fear-mongering and it creates a hostile climate for transgender people, and it's wrong. It's just plain wrong," she said. "This bill is really about discrimination, plain and simple discrimination."

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton made clear that he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. Dayton also took aim at the bill's Republican sponsors, whom he accused of bashing people for political advantage.

"I'm just appalled," Dayton said. "This is about pandering to their extreme base. They're wrong on the issue and they're wrong on the morality of it, in my opinion."

Despite the veto threat, Rep. Gruenhagen said he thinks mounting public pressure could help change the governor's mind.

No hearings have yet been scheduled for the bill in the House or Senate, and the session's deadline for initial committee action is looming.

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