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LGBTQ advocates criticize new restrictions on transgender bathroom use in Pasco County schools

Pasco Schools officials say transgender kids can request to use private bathrooms. LGBTQ advocates say the rule still constitutes a "bathroom ban" and say it harms trans, non-binary and intersex students.
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Pasco Schools officials say transgender kids can request to use private bathrooms. LGBTQ advocates say the rule still constitutes a "bathroom ban" and say it harms trans, non-binary and intersex students.

LGBTQ advocates are speaking out against Pasco County's decision to require students to use bathrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity.

Superintendent Kurt Browning announced the change at a school board meeting on Tuesday night. He cited a decision last month by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a St. Johns County policy that barred a transgender boy named Drew Adams from using the men's bathrooms at his high school.

The divided court’s majority ruled that policy did not violate constitutional equal protection rights or federal Title IX protections against sex discrimination in education.

A trial court had previously ruled otherwise, and Browning said that’s why Pasco schools didn’t have such a rule in place, until now.

“As I’ve stated on many occasions with this board and publicly, I was going to do what I said I was going to do, which is follow the law,” Browning said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Kids can request to use a private bathroom, said Browning.

But advocates for transgender, non-binary and intersex people say these policies harm students’ dignity and privacy.

While not a new issue, Gina Duncan with the civil rights group Equality Florida said bathroom bans have been fueled recently by emboldened conservative groups like Moms for Liberty, which also supported the Parental Rights in Education law that the state implemented last year, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

“Our school districts are under fire,” said Duncan, Equality Florida’s regional development leader for Central Florida. “They’re under fire to implement policies that harm LGBTQ kids, like this one, that dismisses trans and non-binary young people’s gender identity.

“It requires them to use a bathroom that doesn't align with who they are, subjecting them to ridicule and bullying and things like that — or ‘outing’ themselves simply by having to use the designated bathroom that only the trans kids are going to use, like the faculty bathroom or a gender-neutral bathroom way across campus.”

Browning gave schools 30 days to update their policies and talk with affected families.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.