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Transgender Minnesotans, their parents, friends, and allies spoke out at a hearing on Tuesday over a bill that would — opponents said — effectively bar transgender people from using bathrooms in public, schools, and the workplace.

The bill was authored by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, a Republican from Glencoe, and backed by almost a third of the House Republican caucus. It was heard for the first time at an informational hearing at the Civil Law and Data Practices Committee. No vote was taken on Tuesday.

Lawmakers heard roughly half an hour of testimony from both sides of the issue. Conservative Christian parents and representatives of the religious right dominated the first half hour.

Emily Zinos, a parent at Nova Classical Academy who organized a talk by the Minnesota Family Council at the school, insinuated that gender inclusive policies are harmful or unsafe for students. “All children including gender nonconforming children are put in harms way when bathrooms are mixed schools across the state need common sense legislation to guide them in creating bathroom policies because parents like me need to trust that schools will safeguard their children’s safety.”

Zinos’ organizing of conservative parents at Nova Classical Academy helped to force at least one family to withdraw their transgender child from the school.

Kate Hayes, who did not mention an affiliation when testifying, claimed that even though she was speaking in support of a bill that would severely and negatively impact transgender Minnesotans she was, in fact, not transphobic. “Before I say anything else, I need to clarify this because as soon as somebody knows that I am not comfortable with this practice, I am being called transphobic or a hater or that I hate trans people or that I want to harm them and that none of that is true.”

Julie Quist and Marjorie Holsten from the anti-LGBTQ Minnesota Child Protection League spoke. Quist read a letter from a parent in Virginia, Minn., who opposes making the schools inclusive for a transgender child in that community. Holsten made the claim that allowing transgender people to use the restroom violates people’s religious freedom.

Two representatives from the North Star Law and Policy Center, a religious right legal outfit once tied to the Minnesota Family Council, spoke to the committee. Attorney Melissa Coleman repeatedly and inaccurately referred to transgender people as “the gender confused.”

“Anyone can claim to be transgender, even sexual predators who are not in fact transgender,” she asserted. “Inviting men into women’s bathrooms puts women and girls at risk of sexual assault.”

The hearing then shifted to opponents of the bill.

Rep. Barb Yarusso, a DFLer from Shoreview and the parent of a transgender son, told the bill’s author, Rep. Gruenhagen, “This is not a good bill.”

Yarusso noted that the bill lacks clear and accurate definitions of biological sex, and it creates an unenforceable law.

“The enforcement of this will be impossible in public accommodations unless you are going to put a TSA-like scanner to identify people’s anatomy. If you going to be inquiring about people’s medical status, you would be violating HIPPA regulations so it would be absolutely unenforceable in public accommodations.”

Yarusso then told the committee what this bill means to transgender people:

Needing to pee is a basic biological need. If my son can’t go to the men’s room with his beard, he’s not going to be able to go to the women’s room with his beard. This bill treats my son like a dog, because he can’t pee inside at a public accommodation. This bill puts people at risk of being targeted, beaten up, and killed. That happens every year to transgender people in this country. This bill tells transgender people you don’t have a place in our society; we’re not even going to let you pee. You don’t have a place in our society. You don’t have a place in our restaurant you don’t have a place in our jobs, you don’t have a place in our schools and that puts people at risk, because the psychological risk of being transgender is about not having a place in society. And I’m here today primarily so that there’s people that know somebody’s standing up for them, and telling them, yes you do belong, you’ve got a place in society, you’ve got a place in a job, you’ve got a place in a restaurant, you’ve got a place in my home, and don’t anyone tell you you don’t.

Teresa Nelson of the Minnesota ACLU told the committee that the bill would open Minnesota up to lawsuits, and that it creates a climate of fear. DeWayne L. David, pastor of All God’s Children Church, said the bill was a “wantonly cruel piece of discriminatory legislation” and it brought back reminders of Jim Crow laws that barred blacks from using whites-only restrooms.

Monica Meyer from OutFront Minnesota said that the Legislature should create more transgender-inclusive laws rather than the bill being heard. “What we need to do is have more legal protections in place that promote inclusion in our state.”

Catherine Crow, an attorney from St. Paul, lambasted the previous testifiers for suggesting that transgender people are sexual predators.

I am not a rapist and I am not a pedophile and I am not a child molester and this bill would require that my employee bar me from using the bathroom. Not simply that, I wouldn’t really be allowed to use the bathroom. This bill would require that my employer take action barring from using the bathroom at work.
I have been harassed in the street. I have seen an increase in suicidal ideation. I have seen an increase in harassment and I have seen an increase in violence against trans women since these bills began to introduced in state legislatures. This is an all out assault on women like me. We are pictured in full page ads, we are pictured as men who seek to rape little girls, and you can only imagine for me what it’s like to step out my door each day, and think that a certain number of people are going to read me as a transgender woman and of that percentage of people some people are going to feel comfortable verbally attacking me and some people are going to feel comfortable physically assaulting me. And as these bills — just simply the introduction of these bills into state legislatures — increases that violence increases that rhetoric, that hate against us. We deal with suicide rates that are nearly 1 in 50. We deal with suicide attempts that are 41 percent of transgender people, nearly 60 percent of transgender women try to kill themselves. I first tried at 9. I want to live my life, and this guy [Rep. Gruenhagen] wants to call me a rapist so that he can win some seats at the state and national level. And that is not okay.

The most moving testimony of the hearing came from 16-year old Andrew Dodge, a student at South High in Minneapolis. He recounted being forced to change in the women’s room at a YMCA because he’s transgender:

“I was forced to use the female’s bathroom in a YMCA. I walked in and was getting ready to change and a woman was scared and she ran out to the staff desk and came back and said I didn’t belong there. And she felt violated because I was in there.”

In reference to Rep. Gruenhagen, Dodge said, “And he wants us to go in our biological bathrooms.”

“How did she feel? She felt violated and I’m only 16. I think this is idiotic to have this bill when i’m just trying to live my life and be free to be who i am and not confined and secluded in a world that is not mine.
I want to live my life how it’s supposed to not how [Rep. Gruenhagen] wants it to be. I’m a person just like every single one of you. Just like him. And I want to live and I want to be.”

Dodge’s testimony prompted Sen. Scott Dibble, a DFLer from Minneapolis to remark:

The bill is effectively dead for the legislative session as it missed the April 1 deadline for bills to pass out of committee. Republicans may try to amend it to another bill at some point in the session, but Gov. Mark Dayton has already promised to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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