By JASON KRAFT
Capital News Service
LANSING – A state lawmaker wants transgendered students in Michigan to be required to use school bathrooms or locker rooms of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, announced that he will introduce the bill in response to guidelines recently released for schools by the Michigan Department of Education.
The guidelines are optional and say students should be allowed to use the restroom that matches their current gender identity.
“All-gender or single- user restrooms (staff bathroom or nurse’s office) should be made available to students who request them, but not presented as the only option. Any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of underlying reasons, has the right to access a single-user restroom,” reads the document.
The guidelines also say that students should not be required to use a locker room that is “incongruent” with their gender identity. “Locker room usage should be determined on a case-by-case basis, using the guiding principles of safety and honoring the student’s gender identity and expression.”
The guidelines, called Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students, were released Feb. 23 by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian J. Whiston.
The document provides policies for school districts on how to handle certain issues, including bathroom and locker room use.
Casperson is pressing the department to rescind the guidelines.
He did not return multiple requests for comment.
“The Department of Education document was poorly conceived, poorly written and should not be used,” he wwrote on his website. “I encourage all residents who wish to have their voices heard on this matter to contact the department and make your opinions known.”
Districts had asked the Department of Education how to deal with LGBTQ students, said Bill DiSessa, a communications officer for the department.
The guidance the department provided has been controversial.
“Yes, we have received backlash from legislators and members of the public,” DiSessa said. “One reason for some of the backlash is misconceptions about the guide – opponents of the policies think it was drafted as a mandatory state requirement. No, this is optional for schools to use at their pleasure.”
The issue affects about 10 percent of students in the state, DiSessa said. “Statistics and research show that these students tend to need more support and help in a school environment, so the Board of Education with the Department tried to come up with optional recommendations for districts to use for this issue.”
Some advocacy groups back the guidelines.
“Equality Michigan supports the department’s proposed guidance,” said L. Michael Gipson, deputy director of the anti-violence advocacy group for LGBT people. “We believe that all LBGT students, and all students in Michigan schools have a right to a safe, supportive and affirming educational environment.
“This guidance is the first step to achieving that,” Gipson said.
State policies on gender-specific bathrooms have also caused controversy elsewhere.
In Lansing’s Anderson House Office Building, the workplace of most state representatives, a new bathroom sign including a third stick figure that combines the traditional images of a man in pants and a woman in a skirt has angered some lawmakers.
Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Twp., said he found the new bathroom sign offensive, as it singles out transgender individuals, according to a recent report in MIRS, a governmental news organization. In a recent Facebook post, Forlini tied the new sign to the policies released by the Department of Education.
DiSessa says that the department’s guidelines have nothing to do with the signs in the legislative office building.
“The policy certainly deals with restrooms, but nothing about signage,” DiSessa said. “I’ll let the policy speak for itself.”
By JASON KRAFT