Melina Barratt protested in her ivory, silk blouse and baby blue pencil skirt.
With a blue flower pinned against her golden hair, she waved a white sign with “#Just Needs 2 Pee” painted in red. She’s a single parent, Santa Fe College student and transgender woman.
And she was one of hundreds who attended the Marion County School Board meeting Tuesday, when the board approved a resolution that restricts students’ use of bathrooms and locker rooms to their sex assigned at birth, not the gender with which they identify.
After 46 public comments, the board passed the resolution with a 4-1 vote. About 250 people cheered, sang Christian songs and waved banners that read, “God Belongs In My City.”
“A lot of people just don’t know that we’re people, too,” Barratt said. “I’m hoping to express a message to everyone here that we are people, that we’re good people, and we just want to live our lives.”
With about five weeks left in the school year, school board chair Bobby James asked the board to act calmly, become more educated on the issue, and make a final vote in June.
His motion didn’t receive a second. The resolution takes effect immediately.
“The safety issue is the biggest,” said Carol Ely, the school board member for district 2. “Although nothing has happened yet, we’re going to see some things happening.”
Transgender students, former Marion County teachers, pastors, and concerned parents filled the meeting room, office, and parking lot of the school board’s building. Some wore Equality Florida stickers while most wore red stickers reading, “We Stand With God.”
Just one week ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a Virginia school district discriminated against a transgender student by enacting a similar bathroom policy. James said that this was the first time a federal court asserted that Title IX protects transgender students.
“We cannot help that the Department of Education… is now working under an illegal, unadvertised rule,” said Nancy Stacy, school board member for District 1. “The Federal Department of Education doesn’t even have a right to constitutionally exist. I believe this rule is completely illegal.”
Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program, such as Marion County public schools.
Schools can lose federal funding if they violate the law.
“You need to basically assess if you really want to jump in front of this legal freight train,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, the public policy specialist for Equality Florida. “If you pass this, you’ll get sued. You’ll spend… thousands of dollars in taxpayer money, not on school books, not on learning instruments, but to go down this path that is motivated by a misunderstanding of a marginalized community that is already vulnerable in our public schools.”
Those who supported the ban said transgender students using the bathroom of their choice is morally wrong, an invasion of privacy, goes against their religious beliefs, and could lead to even more severe consequences.
“It exposes our children to molestation [and] to rape” said Tawanna Monroe, an Ocala resident. “They could be saying that they’re transgender, and they have another purpose.”
Those who opposed the ban, including transgender students in Marion County, parents and Equality Florida representatives, said it will neglect and cause violence to a marginalized population.
“I do not want to face prejudice in my school,” said Mathew Myers, a high school transgender student. “You may be thinking you’re protecting others, when you’re actually ruining others’ lives.”