Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a bill this week that prohibits transgender students in the state from using public school bathrooms that do not align with their gender assigned at birth.
Senate Bill 1100, which takes effect July 1, requires public schools to provide separate male and female bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dressing areas and overnight accommodations for students in the state. The restrictions do not apply to single-occupancy restrooms. The bill also requires reasonable accommodations to be made for students who are unwilling or unable to use multi-occupancy restrooms or changing facilities.
“Requiring students to share restrooms and changing facilities with members of the opposite biological sex generates potential embarrassment, shame, and psychological injury to students,” the bill states.
Under the law, students can take legal action against the schools in instances where they encounter people of the opposite sex using gendered facilities if the schools gave those people permission to use the facilities or failed to “take reasonable steps” to prevent the person from using those facilities.
Students who are successful in their private lawsuits will receive $5,000 from the public school systems for each time they saw “a person of the opposite sex” in those gendered facilities or sleeping quarters and can receive monetary damages from schools for psychological, emotional or physical harm.
Advocates have for years worked to combat bathroom bills like the one passed in Idaho, blasting them as an unnecessary and harmful attack on transgender students’ humanity.
Democratic state Sen. Rick Just told CNN on Saturday that he had voted against the bill largely because it allows people to file private lawsuits against school systems. “I don’t believe it’s helpful to encourage citizens to seek damages whenever they feel aggrieved in the slightest way,” he told CNN in an email.
Republican state Rep. Ted Hill, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation would ultimately “bring peace” among the schools, school boards and parents, and that it would help them focus on students’ education instead.
“The most important part of this legislation was to recognize the rights of everyone,” Hill told CNN in an email. “Recognized the rights for young girls to be safe and secure in a place where they are most vulnerable, same for the boys to be safe and secure where they are most vulnerable, and the rights for everyone else to be safe, secure and comfortable in a place where they are most vulnerable.”
Little did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill Saturday.
Following the legislation’s passage, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the US, slammed Little and said, “LGBTQ+ people in Idaho deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and respect.”
“Unfortunately, the bills that Gov. Little is signing into law will make life harder on LGBTQ+ folks across the state,” the group’s state legislative director and senior counsel, Cathryn Oakley, said in a statement. “These bills will not accomplish anything other than to further alienate and stigmatize those already on the margins of life in this state.”
The Human Rights Campaign said that more “bathroom bills” have been filed across the country so far in 2023 than in any previous year.
The Idaho legislation follows similar bills Republican governors in Arkansas and Iowa signed this past week.
On Tuesday, Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill that prevents transgender people from using restrooms that do not match the sex they have listed on their birth certificates. And in Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill prohibiting transgender people from using school restrooms that do not correspond to their sex assigned at birth.
Transgender Americans make up a tiny fraction of kids in the US – the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated less than 2% of high school students identify as transgender.
Health care professionals have said the types of bills Republicans are pushing are likely to further ostracize transgender kids, a group that already struggles with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
The political debate around which bathrooms trans people are allowed to use exploded in 2016, when North Carolina enacted a law that required people at government-run facilities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificates, if the rooms in question were multiple-occupancy. The measure drew intense criticism from businesses and advocates, and it was later repealed.
Alongside the transgender legislation, Little signed House Bill 186, which allows for executions by firing squad in Idaho if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injection. Several states have struggled to source the drugs required for lethal injection, causing them to pause executions.
This story has been updated with further reaction.