South Carolina’s Senate introduced the S. 1203 bill, colloquially referred to as the “bathroom bill,” on April 6. A subcommittee convened to discuss the bill at a hearing that was followed by rally outside the Statehouse on Wednesday.
What is the S. 1203 bill?
The bill, if enacted, would criminalize transgender men and women for using public restrooms that do not align with their biological sex. According to Section I of the bill, “‘Biological sex’ means the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate."
In an effort to protect citizens’ privacy, the bill prohibits people from using restrooms for a gender that is not on their birth certificates.
At the hearing
Shortly into the hearing, Sen. Joel Lourie asked the room who was against enacting the bill. All but two hands were raised.
Two people who spoke out in favor of the bill were Matt Sharp and Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsels from Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm that advocates for religious freedom.
Sharp believes that allowing people to use restrooms intended for a gender not assigned to them at birth is a direct violation of privacy.
“Students do not shed their constitutional right to privacy when they head to school each morning, and that includes the right to bodily privacy,” Sharp said. “Opening boys and girls restrooms and locker rooms to members of the opposite sex would directly violate this right to privacy.”
Fiedorek believes that enacting S. 1203 is necessary for the protection of children in restrooms and dressing rooms.
“What concerns me is … the fact that so many children will be uncomfortable, and we want to make sure that everyone’s privacy is protected,” Fiedorek said, “At the end of the day, we have to enact laws based on fact and not on feeling.”
Mayor Steve Benjamin stood in opposition to the bill at the hearing, in part due to the effect it would have on businesses in Columbia.
“We worked hard to bring Columbia out of the recession. S. 1203 would cause irreparable damage,” he said. “This bill is an attack on some of our most talented citizens. It makes daily life hard for them. It’s not just about bathrooms.”
Sen. Lee Bright initially introduced the bill to the Senate on April 6.
“I've about had enough of this," Bright said. "I mean, years ago we kept talking about tolerance, tolerance, and tolerance, and now they want men who claim to be women to be able to go into bathrooms with children. And you got corporations who say this is okay."
Many argued the bill will cause more problems than it will solve in the long run, and some directed their comments to Bright. Law professor Greg Adams said to Bright, “Your bill will create danger … this is a horrible bill.”
Former state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum asserted that S. 1203 violates Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. She also mentioned the bill’s possible effect on federal funding in South Carolina.
“America will not tolerate discrimination against the LGBT community, nor will it put transgender people in danger without making (the) mistakes that have passed these laws pay economically,” Tenenbaum said. “The bill is a solution in search of a problem.”
At the rally
Shortly after the hearing, which was in the Gressette Building just south of the Statehouse, citizens rallied behind the State House in protest of the bill. The protesters chanted "Free from fear" and "Slay 1203." Many protesters carried signs with messages such as “End the hate, educate,” “Genital checks slowdown bathroom lines” and “Don’t make my gender a crime.”
Theo Santos, co-founder and co-president of USC’s Trans Student Alliance, organized the protests. Santos is a third-year political science and women and gender studies student at USC and gave the opening speech at the rally.
Santos, along with TSA, works with Trans United of South Carolina. Both organizations participated in the hearing and the protests. Santos said they selected speakers who represented young transgender people and transgender people of color.
The Statehouse saw at least 100 protesters, and TSA and TUSC plan to have protesters again Thursday after the subcommittee convenes agains to discuss the bill.
“We wanted to show up to the protests and rally and testify and everything, not only to show that this bill should not be acceptable in South Carolina, but to also build a community that can continue its activism beyond this bill to create more inclusive and safe spaces for transgender South Carolinians and transgender people across the United States," Santos said.
Among the protesters were members of USC’s Individuals Respecting Identities and Sexualities, including the president, second-year political science student Kaitlin McClamrock.
“[S. 1203] legalizes some kinds of discrimination, specifically kind of barring certain people from using the bathroom, so [we’re] really trying to make sure that we prioritize the needs of transgender people in South Carolina,” McClamrock said. “That’s a huge part of IRIS … but also because these are our friends, these are our neighbors, these are the people that we we interact with on a daily basis.”
McClamrock suggested gender neutral bathrooms as a possible solution to the issues the bill attempts to tackle.
“They’re really scared of the idea of gender neutral restrooms, which can be really beneficial for trans people,” McClamrock said. “It’s also just beneficial for kind of any situation. If you have someone with a disability, someone with a medical condition, and they have a caretaker, gender neutral restrooms benefit a lot of different people.”
South Carolina is home to the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center, which stands as the state’s primary community center for LGBT support and activism. The center’s namesake, Columbia attorney and activist Harriet Hancock, said that the bill is impractical, unnecessary and "insane."
“We have not had any kind of problems with the transgender community and restrooms," she said, "and they’ve been using their gender identity restrooms for many years.”
Hancock also stressed that enacting such a bill would be dangerous to transgender people.
“If a transgender male-to-female goes into the wrong restroom, they’re in danger, and vice versa,” Hancock said. “Some who is extremely feminine looking ... (if) she goes into a men’s room because that was her birth gender … she’s very much in danger of being in that restroom with men.”
College of Charleston alumnus Carter Girlardo, a transgender man, traveled to Columbia to protest the bill.
“Trans people have been in the bathrooms for as long as there’s been trans people,” Girlardo said. “And it’s actually a more uncomfortable situation for us in the beginning because you don’t start to use the bathroom of your gender until you’re one hundred percent passable.”
Girlardo held a sign that read, “I’m a Trans Southern Gentleman & I Do Not Belong In The Ladies Room.”
The rally ended with protesters marching to the front of the Statehouse chanting, “Not this time. Not this time. Being trans is not a crime.” The group then gathered to have an open group conversation.
Santos greatly appreciated the wealth of support from the community and public figures in Columbia and South Carolina.
“Something that is usually understated is the fact that the American South has an incredible knack of producing a unique and dedicated breed of activists who are intimately familiar with the intersectional challenges of existing in this space,” Santos said. “One thing that has always motivated me is this community and standing up for it. Nobody should have to move states in order to feel safe. South Carolina and the South is our home. It should feel like home, too.”