Education, Family & Community

Mothers urge change to Stillwater bathroom policy

April 13, 2022

Ray Carter

During the public-comment portion of the April 12 meeting of the Stillwater Board of Education, many parents urged the district to change its policy allowing transgender students—males who identify as female—to use the girls’ bathrooms.

Several mothers noted their own experience as adolescents, stressing that girls face significant emotional challenges during puberty that will only be made worse if they are forced to share bathroom spaces with males.

“As a biological female, my experience as a pre-teen and teenager entering puberty was confusing, and definitely different than my biological male counterparts,” said Julia Ray, a mother of three students in the Stillwater district. “I made great efforts to hide when I was menstruating out of fear of being made fun of by boys. The restroom and the locker rooms were places where I knew there was no chance a boy would know what I was doing.”

She recalled being “harassed” by boys and noted the school’s bathroom policy would allow boys to simply claim to be transgender and gain access to girls’ bathrooms to target female students.

Other women speaking before the board raised similar concerns.

“This is opening the door for all kinds of abuse to happen,” said Kim Chaffin. “I know. I was a victim of sexual assault in middle school. I had boys assault me in a hallway in the school in front of a lot of people. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if I had been in a locker room or a bathroom. You cannot undo an assault that has already happened. Women need safe, private places.”

Tina Smith recalled being an “awkward” youth who struggled socially.

“As a young woman figuring out how to deal with my cycle, the cramps, spotting, heavy days when more than one sanitary napkin was required, bleeding through my clothes, there was more than enough pressure from my peers without adding a boy to the bathroom or locker-room experience,” Smith said.

Delicia Timmons said her 13-year-old daughter does not use the school bathroom all day “because she doesn’t feel safe, and that’s not from hating anyone. We don’t hate the other kids. She just doesn’t feel safe and doesn’t feel that, I guess, her privacy is protected.”

Ryan Smith indicated that while Stillwater’s bathroom policy may have been enacted out of a perceived effort to be kind to transgender youth, it could actually incentivize those youth to take other actions they will ultimately regret.

Smith noted research indicates 85 percent to 90 percent of students who experience gender dysphoria and identify as transgender no longer do so after the conclusion of puberty. But, he noted, many such youth are currently being pushed to embrace permanent treatments that have lifelong consequences, including hormone injections and major surgeries.

“Youth who begin hormone therapy are at an increased risk for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancers, and are left with life-altering physical deformities, sterilization, and escalating states of depression,” Smith said.

While individuals who identify as transgender are 10 times more likely to commit suicide than the average person, Smith noted those individuals are 19 times more likely to commit suicide after completing transition surgery

While district officials have indicated court rulings and guidance from the Biden administration require the school to allow all youth to access bathroom facilities based on students’ self-identified gender identities, critics noted most rulings cited by district officials are from courts that do not have jurisdiction in Oklahoma, and a U.S. Supreme Court case cited by Stillwater officials explicitly states that it does not address the issue of bathroom and locker-room access.

Critics also noted that federal guidance has changed repeatedly. For the first seven years of the Obama administration, bathroom access was based on biological access, then the administration declared that gender identity was the controlling factor, then the Trump administration reversed guidance to again state that biology was the controlling factor, and now the Biden administration has changed federal guidance again.

Yet the federal Title IX statutes have remained the same the entire time.

“I’m tired of our daughters being pawns in D.C.’s game of political ping pong,” said Ryan Haynie, the criminal justice reform fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). “If Stillwater Public Schools must choose between protecting our daughters and being on the ‘wrong side’ of the latest flip-flop at the U.S. Department of Education, I would kindly ask that they choose to protect our daughters and leave the politics to D.C.”

“Caring for and respecting all students does not mean giving in to every student’s demands,” said Trent England, the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty at the OCPA. “I am a parent of three teenagers, and I would be a terrible parent if I view my responsibility as simply affirming everything that they say they want to do in that moment.”

Several critics noted Stillwater school buildings have single-occupant bathrooms that can be used by the rare student who does not identify with his or her biological gender.

“From what I understand, there has been a private bathroom set aside for children who do not embrace the gender they were born,” Chaffin said. “If these few individuals use that bathroom, what is the problem? This gives everyone a place where they feel safe.”

Supporters of the bathroom policy also spoke at the meeting, and dismissed the concerns raised by critics.

“Bathrooms have been a haven for bullies forever,” said Dalton Parsons. “I know they were when I was a kid.”

“Restricting transgender students’ bathroom access only to gender-neutral locations puts transgender students at risk of higher levels of violence,” said Irissa Baxter-Luper.

Kayla Ward, a transgender individual who carried a “Death before detransition” sign to the board meeting, acknowledged that girls objected when Ward used female bathrooms in high school.

“I was turned in by my fellow girls for just doing my business,” Ward said. “I can’t speak for the boys because I’m not a boy.”

Ward urged officials to throw off “the shackles of false dogma” of “religion, of the state legislation, of the parents, of the longstanding social hierarchy of women instilled by the patriarchy.”

“The girls who did it did not talk to me. They did not talk to other trans people,” Ward said. “They listened to their legislators, their churches, their parents, and ill-equipped doctors who also have not talked with trans people, and they took their opinions and ran with them.”

Several supporters of Stillwater schools’ current transgender bathroom policy appeared to object to allowing any discussion and debate on the issue, claiming public comments endanger children.

“It’s disturbing that the words ‘males,’ ‘females,’ ‘men,’ and ‘women’ are the only ones used when we are talking about trans children,” said Leigh Welch.

“The continuation of this type of rhetoric that’s happening, even tonight, is truly causing harm to our entire community and children,” said Kelsey Turner, a teacher in the Stillwater district who supports the transgender bathroom policy, referencing suicide statistics for transgender individuals.

However, Turner later conceded many students at the school object to the transgender-bathroom policy and criticized those students and their families in harsh terms.

“I had never heard a student say anything on this subject until two weeks ago,” Turner said. “I have now heard harmful, ignorance-based comments in our school that were ignited by the petition.”

But critics of the school’s transgender-bathroom policy said it sends harmful messages to female students in particular.

“Biological females have been second place to biological males for years,” Ray said. “Do biological females not have the same right to comfortable access to the restroom as transgender students? I’m concerned that we’re telling them to just get over it if they’re uncomfortable and that the boundaries that they have made for themselves are not important. Is this negating everything we have taught them about consent, what I’ve taught my boys, what I’ve taught my girl? Are we invalidating their rights for privacy, comfort and personal convictions?”