Bathroom restrictions for transgender kids added to Missouri ‘parents bill of rights’

Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent photo: 
State Sen. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, expresses his concerns about public school bathrooms Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in the Missouri Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee meeting.
Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent photo: State Sen. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, expresses his concerns about public school bathrooms Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in the Missouri Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee meeting.

Legislation seeking to create a "parents bill of rights" in Missouri was amended in committee Tuesday morning to add prohibitions on transgender students accessing restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.

A House hearing on standalone bills that sought to regulate school bathrooms took up the majority of a nearly nine-hour meeting last week. Missourians haven't had a chance to testify on bathroom restrictions in the Senate this year, a fact that irked Democrats as the committee's chairman -- Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester -- briefly introduced the amendment.

Koenig added the bathroom amendment shortly before he was removed as chairman of the education committee. He lost his chairmanship Tuesday along with other members of the Senate's Freedom Caucus following weeks of open warfare with the chamber's GOP leadership.

Sen. Nick Schroer, a Republican from Defiance, said adding the bathroom amendment was an important step.

"It is a statewide issue that your biological sex matches which locker room and which restroom you're going into," Schroer said. "I know several of the school districts in St. Charles County have addressed it, but there's still a need."

Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat and the Senate's only openly gay member, attempted to remove it, but his efforts fell short when only Republican Sen. Elaine Gannon of De Soto joined the Democratic committee members in favor of Razer's proposal.

The original bill would require school staff to report to parents, within 24 hours, if a minor expresses "discomfort or confusion about the student's documented identity" or desires to change their pronouns.

The bill also specifies that school personnel cannot "encourage a student under the age of 18 years old to adopt a gender identity or sexual orientation."

Razer offered another amendment Tuesday that would require staff to contact the Missouri Department of Social Services whenever a parent is contacted regarding students' LGBTQ status. The school would tell the agency that the child was at-risk of becoming homeless. His fear, Razer said, is that disapproving parents may kick a child out of their home.

"I think we all can agree that we don't want children to be homeless," Razer told fellow committee members.

Sen. Doug Beck, a Democrat from Affton, added there was a risk of child abuse as well, stacking another amendment atop Razer's.

"If the parent is going to be notified," Razer said, "the department needs to be notified that they may have a homeless child or an abused child on their hands."

Sen. Rick Brattin, a Republican from Harrisonville, said he thought the Democratic amendments were unnecessary.

"Doesn't the current existing law mandate reporting if they believe there is abuse or anything already going on?" he said. "So this is just redundancy."

Brattin said the amendments assume abuse, saying parents should be "innocent until proven guilty." Razer thought it was best to be precautionary.

"You want to wait until the child is abused?" he asked. "You're going to put a certain unacceptably large percentage of children at risk."

Brattin argued with him, saying it was a "very small portion of children."

Razer became visibly upset.

"If the law says 'sexual orientation or gender identity,' say a boy says, 'I want to take this girl on a date to the dance,' then do they have to call?" Razer asked. "If that's not the case, then what we're saying in your bill is you only call if the student is like me."

Koenig said he was open to clarifying the bill's language.

"What we don't want is, we don't want the teacher indoctrinating the child to make one decision or the other, or to specifically change names or pronouns," he said.

State Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Kansas City Democrat, said teachers are not trying to change students' sexuality or gender identity.

"Without teachers indoctrinating students, there are still conversations about students' personal lives, who they like, who they want to take to the dance and how they're feeling at that moment," she said. "By putting in statute requirements of the teachers to notify parents in conversations where I think we should allow them a little discretion to make the right call, it creates all sorts of additional problems."

Brattin said he thought the discussion of sexual orientation was "muddying the waters." He said the bill addresses situations where teachers help children transition by providing clothes or changing their name without parental consent.

"To say that a teacher should have those sorts of conversations, I think is beyond the scope of a teacher," he said.

Koenig's bill passed, with the committee's Democratic members and Gannon in opposition.

The committee's new chairperson Sen. Curtis Trent, a Republican from Springfield, will be responsible for reporting the bill as "passed" on the Senate floor for it to continue forward. He voted in favor of the legislation.

The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.