South Carolina would ban transgender people from using public bathrooms, showers or changing rooms of their choice under a bill introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spatanburg, said his proposal mimics a controversial law passed last month in North Carolina, which also blocked local governments’ laws protecting the rights of gay, bisexual and transgender men and women.
Several states have passed laws in recent weeks curbing gay and transgender rights, including Mississippi, which legalized businesses from refusing service based on the owners’ religious beliefs.
S.C. gay and transgender advocates are concerned that Bright’s bill could open the door for restrictive laws in the Palmetto State and shoot down local laws protecting their rights in Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
“This is our worst fear,” said Chase Glenn, chair of the transgender committee for gay and transgender rights group S.C. Equality.
Bright’s bill could create an unsafe environment for transgender men and women by outing them because they would have to use the bathroom based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, Glenn said.
“Trans men and women are using public restrooms and people don’t even know it,” the Charleston-area account executive said.
Glenn said he has had no issues using public restrooms since changing his physical appearance to a man more than a year ago.
“If I had to use the women’s room. it would get a lot of really weird looks and probably get yelled at,” Glenn said.
The South Carolina proposal does not have the sweeping ban on local laws protecting rights based on sexual orientation, like the HB2 law in North Carolina, though Bright expects amendments during a hearing on his bill next week.
Bright, one of the staunchest conservatives in the S.C. Senate, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to allow same-sex marriage has led to “an erosion of morals.”
“It used to be they just wanted to be accepted. Now they want so much more,” he said. “They want what they’re doing promoted. What they want is outside Judeo-Christian ideals of what this country was founded on.”
But there could be a price for states passing these types of laws the pinch the rights based on sexual orientation.
Major businesses and sports organizations — including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Walt Disney Co., the NFL and the NCAA — have joined lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in raising concerns that measures allowing business owners to refuse service based on their religious beliefs could legalize discrimination.
North Carolina’s HB2 law has come under fire with online payment provider PayPal calling off plans this week for a 400-employee expansion in Charlotte.
Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory did what he thought was the right for his state. But, in South Carolina, Haley said the state’s 16-year-old religious liberty law “has worked just fine.”
“What I will tell you is in South Carolina, we are blessed because we don’t have to mandate respect or kindness or responsibility in this state,” she told reporters. “I have always thought the citizens of South Carolina are very respectful and very accepting and very kind to everyone. And we’ve never had to deal with those issues in South Carolina.”
Bright’s new bill would prevent local governments from requiring businesses to accommodate transgender customers or workers who want to use bathrooms of their choosing.
He also proposed mandating that government-run parks, museums and schools designate bathrooms, showers and changing rooms for use only by people based on their biological gender. The bill would apply only to bathrooms and changing rooms used by more than one person at a time.
“Men should use the men’s room and women should use the women’s room — that’s just common sense,” Bright said. “North Carolina is getting so much flak over what is common sense.”
S.C. gay and transgender advocates said Bright’s bill is unnecessary.
“This is playing into the myth of the bathroom predator,” Glenn said. “This myth have been debunked.”
Bright said he’s still worried about the women having to share restrooms with men.
“If you allow people identify themselves with a different gender in there, you’re putting women in an unsafe situation,” he said.
Staff writer Cassie Cope and the Associated Press contributed
GOP's conservatives at odds over gay rights
Republican lawmakers upset about the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage have advanced measures in about a dozen states this year that could strengthen protections for those who refuse on religious grounds to provide services to same-sex couples.
So far, only a few proposals have become law. Those include narrowly tailored protections shielding Florida clergy from having to perform same-sex weddings and college religious organizations in Kansas from losing aid.
A far more sweeping one was signed into law Tuesday by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, despite objections from some major corporations. It creates a religious shield from government penalties for an array of people and organizations, including marriage-license clerks, adoption agencies, counselors and more than a dozen categories of businesses that provide wedding-related services. It applies not only to those with religious beliefs about gay marriage, but also to those who believe that sex outside marriage is wrong and that sexual identity is determined at birth.
More than 60 state legislative measures allowing for religious refusals at the expense of LGBT rights have been introduced, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.
Other broadly written proposals have failed, stalled or are still working their way through legislatures. Some examples:
▪ Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia last week vetoed a religious protection bill passed by the GOP-led House, siding with top business executives who threatened boycotts and dire economic consequences.
▪ A GOP-passed bill shielding clergy and religious groups from participating in gay marriages was vetoed last week by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who cited opposition from corporate leaders.
▪ In Tennessee, a coalition that includes the American Counseling Association launched an online ad campaign against the Republican House speaker over a bill that would let counselors turn away patients based on religious beliefs. The ad warns: "Businesses won't come to a state that discriminates."
▪ In Missouri, scores of activists rallied at the Capitol to protest a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit penalties against those who decline on religious grounds to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples. The state Chamber of Commerce and Industry also came out against it.
Some religious leaders have countered that it is the faithful who face discrimination for living according to their beliefs. They cite government fines and lawsuits against florists, bakers and photographers who declined to do work for same-sex weddings.
"Good and commonsense bills that simply underscore or protect freedoms that we've had since the founding of our country are being attacked by large corporations seeking to thwart the democratic process," said Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group that has backed religious-objection legislation and led court fights in various states.
The Associated Press