The Arkansas Senate passed a bill Tuesday that prohibits transgender people from using restrooms that do not correspond to their biological gender. Those caught in violation would be charged with a misdemeanor. After passing through the Senate, the rule must pass through the state House of Representatives to be enacted into law.
SB270 passed on a 19-7 vote and will allow violators to be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child if they use a public restroom of the opposite sex when a minor is present. In addition, the law ensures that public changing rooms are also defined as bathrooms, as well as locker rooms and showers. Designated dressing rooms in a store where clothing is sold were excluded from the law.
Critics say it is the strictest law in the country
Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior advisor to the Human Rights Campaign, said this bill violates the rights of transgender people: "What this is is an attack on the continued existence in public of transgender people, and the criminalization of being transgender in public."
The bill's main sponsor, Arkansas Republican Senator John Payton, said the measure is crafted with the right level of severity. He mentioned that it would only apply when minors are present and further acknowledged that it would be difficult to arrest someone for violating the restriction: "I just don’t see this as being the bill that stops people from going into the wrong bathroom. Hopefully it just limits it to when children are present."
In addition, the Arkansas bill allows some exceptions to the legislation. Parents or caregivers with a child of the opposite sex will be able to enter bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex. The same is true in the case of housekeeping personnel, medical assistance workers or police officers who must enter to escort a person in custody.