LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Representatives and advocates reacted to a new Arkansas law that will prohibit transgender people in schools from using restrooms that match their gender identity.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed HB1156 into law on Tuesday, adding Arkansas to a list of four states with similar bathroom legislation.
Rep. Mary Bentley sponsored the bill. She says she proposed the bill after her constituents voiced concerns about bathroom safety.
"Public charter schools require the girls to go the girl's room and boys to go the boy's bathroom and those students that are uncomfortable, either one of those will be provided with a separate bathroom for them to use as they need to," Bentley said.
"A lot of constituents are very concerned about the direction of our nation. I just really felt it was time for us to push back and make sure that we just had some common sense legislation to make sure children are safe," Bentley added.
"What we need to notice there is that what we're really scared of is not trans men or trans women. What we're really scared of is cis men, we're scared of people, we're scared of violence," Megan Tullock of NWA Equality said.
Tullock, the director of NWA Equality Programs and Advocacy said this bill could make those in the LGBTQ+ community feel like they don't belong.
"Nobody likes to be scared or be scary and this bill sets people up to have that experience, which is physically dangerous for them," Tullock said.
"It's just the opposite because the superintendents that I visited with out here in rural Arkansas are very concerned about transgender students being attacked in the bathrooms and bullying going on in the bathroom," Rep. Bentley said.
"Bathrooms and changing rooms are very vulnerable places for all of us, whatever our gender and sexuality and I think that if we feel like those places are too scary, that they're too vulnerable or that we're putting vulnerabilities together in a space where bad things can happen, then we should protect everyone," Tullock said.
Tullock explained that the bill could communicate to the LGBTQ+ youth that Arkansas doesn't want to accommodate or create school facilities where they belong or have their most basic needs met.
"We should feel ashamed that that's where we've dedicated our power and energy and money. This session is not into solving these real problems," said Tullock.
Tullock reassures that these are new laws and that things could change so there is reason to feel hope.
"If you don't feel safe and you feel sad and scared and like just hated by people who don't even know you we understand why you feel like that. Like we really do, you're not crazy to feel like that you're not being dramatic to be like that," Tullock said addressing the LGBTQ+ community. "Do everything in your power to make connections with people to have friendships. You don't need a million friendships, you just need a few people who do create that sense of safety and belonging for you."
The Arkansas measure will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns this year's session. That isn't expected to happen until next month at the earliest. After that, parents could file civil suits if they feel this law has been violated. An ethics review committee could fine principals, teachers, or superintendents $1,000 if they were found violating this legislation.
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