By Derreck Stahly
Lawmakers may leave the debate surrounding LGBT civil rights in the hands of the court.
The Courts and the Judiciary Interim Study Committee met to hear testimony and study the issue, but ended up not making any recommendations for legislators Tuesday.
“I think each and every one of these issues is now making its way through federal courts,” Committee Chair Rep. Greg Stueurwald, (R-Avon), said. “We need to be aware of that and see how those cases make progress. No matter what we do, it’s probably going to be preempted.”
Legislators have struggled to tackle the issue of LGBT civil rights. During the most recent session, the search for a compromise between religious freedom supporters and LGBT supporters failed. The Senate did not vote on or debate a bill giving protections right to gay, but not transgender Hoosiers.
Emotional testimony at Tuesday’s committee hearing put both the discussion front and center once again. Tara Biddinger, a transgender woman, said she worries about losing her job, being denied access to services and being kicked out of her house.
“I’m not looking for total acceptance,” she said. “I’m looking for respect as a fellow human being.”
Several transgender individuals and business leaders pushed for lawmakers to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
For many parents, however, the Obama administration’s mandate to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice worried them. One mother submitted a letter to the committee detailing an incident where a boy entered the women’s restroom at a track meet. In her letter, Larissa Sweet said the 16-year-old exchange student that Sweet is responsible for was in that restroom. The exchange student left after seeing the boy enter.
“After multiple texts I went from being scared to being angry,” Sweet said in her letter. “She was no longer in direct harm but potential for future incidents of this kind became increasingly clear, and it had been less than a week since the mandate.”
Mother of four Monica Boyer said she does not think transgender individuals are a threat, but instead feared boys and men could use the mandate as a loophole.
“What boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to shower with the girls?” she asked.
Several people who testified said they worried a man could record video of women in the bathroom or sexually assault them.
Committee member and Sen. Greg Taylor, (D-Indianapolis), said he thinks people were misinterpreting the directive from the Obama administration. He suggested parents read the 25-page set of guidelines released by the administration and provide examples of solutions to some of the concerns.
Jeanne Smith, a transgender woman, suggested having gender-neutral single stall restrooms to help protect those that might be uncomfortable, but also said she’s never had a problem using the women’s restroom. She shared that one of her more uncomfortable experience was when she accidentally walked into the men’s restroom.
“I got into the hallway and a group of women were standing there and they said ‘We wondered what you were doing!’ I just laughed,” Smith said. “I put my hand on my mouth and laughed and then we all went into back into the [women’s] restroom.”
The committee will meet again on Sept. 22, but it is uncertain if LGBT civil rights will be discussed again before the next legislative session.