by The Coalition for Dignity and Safety
On Friday, March 17th, Rep. Carl Glimm (R, Kila), introduced a bill in the Montana State Legislature that would allow an individual to initiate civil litigation against a public school or any government entity that allows Montanans to the freedom to use the locker room/bathroom/other public accommodation where they feel the most safe. HB 609 requires a person to use a locker room or bathroom in a government building or public school that corresponds to the individual’s biological sex as designated by their original birth certificate. HB 609 places sole enforcement responsibility on city, county, and state governments. This bill would not only put the privacy and safety of Montana’s students, youth, and LGBTQ individuals in jeopardy, but would create an immense financial and legal burden for Montana’s public schools and governmental facilities, who would be responsible for paying “compensatory damages for emotional or mental distress.”
HB 609 mirrors similar bills around the country that reflect a continued effort by the extreme religious right to frighten community members and elected officials with false and damaging anti-LGBT ideology. A recent survey found that 59% of transgender individuals avoided using a public restroom due to the fear of confrontations or harassment they might experience. 77% of transgender individuals reported some form of mistreatment, ranging from physical abuse, sexual assault, and verbal harassment. Gender identity is a deeply held identity. Countless school districts around the country allow students to use facilities based on their gender identity with no reports of increased violence. Furthermore, 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims are abused by people they know, not by strangers. The real risk to children comes from people already close to them — family members, acquaintances, friends and authority figures. “This is a clear and deliberate attack on transgender Montanans. It forces an already vulnerable population into dangerous situations. And in doing so, the bill prevents students from learning and community members from going about their daily lives,” says Shawn Reagor, Director of the Gender Expansion Project.
Beyond the harmful implications on Montanans statewide, HB 609 creates a significant burden on schools, cities, and counties by mandating enforcement of a virtually unenforceable law that would require new staff, technology, and invasive security protocols for using bathrooms and locker rooms. From unnecessary litigation to financial stress, this bill will also distract schools from their primary responsibility — educating Montana’s youth in a safe environment where the dignity of each student is respected. Lindsey Barnes, a public educator in Montana, states, “Schools have a moral and legal obligation to ensure all students receive an education and feel safe to come to school. Therefore, no Montana student should be discriminated against because of their gender identity.” The bill is not limited to schools. Public spaces such as parks, sports arenas, libraries and Montana’s many recreational areas would be equally burdened. Furthermore, the state will undoubtedly face a similar backlash to North Carolina after that state passed a similar bill, resulting in a loss of over $5 billion a year in federal funding, tourism revenue, business investment, and litigation costs.
 Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, www.ustranssurvey.org/report
 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 2000
The Coalition for Dignity and Safety includes: Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, Pride Foundation, ACLU of Montana, Gender Expansion Project, Montana Women Vote, Forward Montana Foundation, Empower MT, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana.