Trans Youth Could Face Juvenile Detention Under 2021’s Worst Anti-Trans Bill. (Them.)
Students would be slapped with a misdemeanor under Minnesota law, resulting in possible criminal penalties.
Article published in Them. Nico Lang. March 1, 2021.
Critics say a new Minnesota bill introduced last week is the worst legislation targeting trans youth to be put forward so far this year. If passed, it would be the first law to criminalize transgender girls seeking to be affirmed by their gender at school.
After more than 20 states introduced anti-trans sports bills in 2021, Minnesota’s HF 1657 ups the ante by levying legal penalties against transgender girls who participate on sports teams in alignment with their gender identity. According to text of the bill introduced in the state House of Representatives on Friday, any trans female student who “participates on a female-only team is guilty of a petty misdemeanor.”
While a petty misdemeanor is not considered a “crime” under Minnesota statutes, adults who are guilty of such infractions are liable to a maximum fine of $300. It is unclear how those penalties would apply to trans minors under the age of 18.
The legislation, which was sponsored by state Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton), would go even further by potentially jailing transgender girls who use the locker room or restroom that corresponds with their sense of self. Any trans girl who uses a “female-only facility” would be guilty of a misdemeanor, which, for adults, constitutes a crime punishable by 90 days behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
Megan Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota civil rights organization Gender Justice, said those penalties could translate to a juvenile detention stay for minors found guilty of violating HF 1657.
“For a misdemeanor, that is pretty unlikely, but it would be on the child’s record until they’re an adult and their minor records are expunged,” she told them.
“It tells us a lot about the dystopia that the people who think that this would be a good idea are living in. They want to put forward a path where children could be arrested, sent to juvenile detention, and forced to see a judge all for just trying to use a locker room or to play a sport at school,”
Megan Peterson, Gender Justice
Such a result would be disastrous for transgender youth, who surveys show are already overrepresented in juvenile detention centers. A 2009 study from the Equity Project found that LGBTQ+ youth accounted for approximately 13% of all young people housed in the juvenile justice system — despite the fact that, at the time, this group was estimated to account for just 5 to 7% of American’s youth overall population.
Peterson predicted that a proposal like HF 1657 would only serve to further fuel the “school to prison pipeline,” particularly for trans youth of color.
“This is just adding another layer on to that, and you’re doing it to transgender kids, a highly marginalized group already,” she said. “It tells us a lot about the dystopia that the people who think that this would be a good idea are living in. They want to put forward a path where children could be arrested, sent to juvenile detention, and forced to see a judge all for just trying to use a locker room or to play a sport at school.”
Lucero has yet to release a statement regarding his reasoning for introducing the legislation, and a request for comment was not immediately returned prior to publication time.
HF 1657 harkens back to a wave of proposals introduced in 2016 that would have allowed cisgender students to lobby their schools for potential damages if they are forced to share a locker room or restroom with a trans classmate. A pair of bills in Kansas — Senate Bill 513 and its companion legislation, House Bill 2737 — would have awarded $2,500 to complainants under the law.
While that effort failed, the city of Oxford, Alabama successfully passed an ordinance threatening to slap trans people who use a public facility in line with their gender identity with six months in jail or a $500 fine. That ordinance, however, was eventually repealed due to fears it violated federal civil rights law.
But HF 1657 is novel in that it imposes these kinds of punishments on trans students themselves, which no prior effort has proposed. Monica Meyer, executive director of the LGBTQ+ group OutFront Minnesota, believes it sets a “terrible precedent.”
“It’s just so dehumanizing for trans youth that we even have legislators that put forward this bill,” Meyer told them. “The bill itself isn’t going to pass, but I think the harm of introducing it is also just that it’s so incredibly hateful. There’s no way that doesn’t send the message that there’s something wrong with being trans and that there’s something wrong with trans youth.”
Fortunately, in addition to facing a major roadblock in the Democrat-controlled House, HF 1657 flies in the face of Minnesota’s pre-existing civil rights laws. In 1993, the state was the first in the U.S. to sign a bill banning discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Over the 28 years since, Minnesota has strengthened those policies by passing laws further shielding queer and trans students from harm. In 2014, the state passed an inclusive anti-bullying law, and according to Meyer, LGBTQ+ groups worked with the Minnesota Department of Education to draft an inclusion toolkit in 2017 that individual districts could reference in order to “make schools a more safe and affirming place for trans youth.”
“The bill itself isn’t going to pass, but I think the harm of introducing it is also just that it’s so incredibly hateful. There’s no way that doesn’t send the message that there’s something wrong with being trans and that there’s something wrong with trans youth,”
Monica Meyer, OutFront
“We just keep doing everything we can to make it so that hopefully these kinds of bills aren’t introduced,” Meyer said. “I think that these legislators are just jumping on the bandwagon. They’re seeing other states do these kinds of policies and then for some horrible reason, they want to take it and make it even worse.”
Advocacy groups hope to see Minnesota lawmakers respond to HF 1657 by passing one last law safeguarding LGBTQ+ youth from harm: a comprehensive bill outlawing conversion therapy. Despite the fact that seven cities and counties in the state already have ordinances on the books prohibiting the dangerous and sometimes deadly practice, statewide legislation has stalled in the Minnesota Senate — which is narrowly controlled by Republicans.
But in pushing back against this legislation, Peterson wants to also send the message that bills targeting trans kids are not only harmful but wholly unnecessary. When Gender Justice represented a transgender swimmer in Minnesota who wished to use the boy’s locker room at his high school, she noted that his facility use wasn’t an issue until the school board made it one.
“No one was complaining,” she said. “It became an issue when the school board asked the school, ‘Hey, do you have any trans kids playing on teams?’ and they said, ‘Oh, there’s one kid.’ And then it became this big brouhaha.”
After the student sued the district, he ultimately won his case, with the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling in 2020 that he was entitled to equal access to the locker room of his choice under the state’s 1993 nondiscrimination laws. While LGBTQ+ groups often say that bills like HF 1657 are a “solution in search of a problem,” Peterson thinks last year’s court decision proves that disclaimer doesn’t adequately describe what’s going on.
“We don’t even like to say that because it’s not really a solution,” she said of the legislation. “It’s creating a problem while looking for a problem.”