JEFFERSON CITY — Mazy Gilleylen just wants to be treated like any other 11-year-old girl. She wants to keep using the girls' restroom, as she’s been doing for the past four years.
Senate Bill 98 would put an end to that routine. It would require her and other transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their biological sex.
"I just want to be able to go in, use the restroom with the doors closed, and wash my hands," Mazy said with her mother at her side. "I don’t want to hurt anyone, and I don’t want anyone to hurt me."
Mazy testified to a packed hearing room Tuesday. Dressed in a bright purple shirt and with a hot pink clip-in highlighting her long brown hair, she walked up to the front of the hearing room with a timid smile to address the state senators lined up before her.
The crowd included a number of children, officials and advocacy organizations. Three people spoke in favor of the bill, arguing for a right to privacy. More than 20 spoke in opposition, several of them crying — including children.
The legislation would apply to all public schools, from elementary school through college, according to bill sponsor State Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. It states that other accommodation would be made for students with different gender identities.
That's not what Samantha 13, wants. For the first six years of her life, she was Samuel. Now she's on the cheerleading team at her school, loves drawing and playing with her cat.
"Knowing that there might be a change in the law saying that I would have to use a different restroom is horrifying for me, it shuts me down in every single way," Samantha said as she cried. "I’m not in the bathroom to do anything bad, to vandalize or, like, peep in the stalls. I’m there to pee and wash my hands."
Many other parents came to the hearing to speak in support of their transgender children.
Avery Jackson, the transgender girl from Kansas City who appeared on the January cover of National Geographic magazine, was also present in opposition of the bill. Her mother, Debi, spoke for her.
Kelly, a mother of two 12-year-old middle-schoolers, said she's the proud parent of a son and daughter, although her son has a birth certificate that says he’s female.
Asking that her last name not be used to protect her son, she said "(he) is not confused, he is not delusional, he is not mentally ill, and he is certainly not a sexual predator."
"I prefer to believe that most people, especially those in public service, do not intend harm to children," Kelly said. "You speak today about student privacy and safety, I hope you mean this for my kid, too."
Emery said in his opening remarks that the legislation would continue the separation of gender that has always occurred in Missouri and that it would address "the new arena of genders."
Emery has previously spoken about the LGBTQ community. "How can harmful thoughts and unnatural behavior — formerly portrayed as mental illnesses — suddenly become normal behavior, even privileged by government mandates?" he said, according to previous Missourian reporting.
He has also said the reason people suffer from "gender confusion" is because of the removal of prayer and the Bible in education.
Of those who spoke in support of the bill, two were from Concerned Women for America, a legislative action committee that promotes Biblical principles.
Bev Ehlen, state director of the organization, said "those who suffer from gender confusion don't need accommodation as much as they need help."
Ehlen said gender dysphoria is a mental illness that needs treatment.
Others who testified disagreed.
Sara Baker, testifying on behalf of the ACLU, said the proposed law would violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection, because it discriminates against transgender people.
Baker also brought up the Supreme Court case of G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board that will be heard in March. The case is about a young transgender boy named Gavin Grimm who was using the boys restroom in his high school before policies were passed by the school board requiring him to use a separate bathroom, according to the ACLU.
During testimony, State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, asked whether it's right for parents to let kids make decisions concerning their gender or sex.
"Kids say funny things — you know, when I grow up I want to be a dog, or who knows what they'll say — but that doesn't mean I turn around and try to cultivate that," Koenig said. "At the age of 5, 6, 7, is it appropriate to cultivate something that they genetically are not?"
Pediatrician Sharon Dunski Vermont acknowledged that kids play pretend, and said she used to pretend to be a princess growing up.
"But when I pretended to be a princess or your son pretends to be a dog, we’re not distressed over the fact that we aren’t a princess or a dog, we’re not depressed or anxious, we’re not talking about cutting off parts of our body because we’re not a dog or a princess,” Vermont said.
She added that medically, children’s gender identity is solidified in their brain by the age of 4 or 5.
“No one suffers because they’re not a dog or a princess, but these children try to commit suicide," Vermont said. "They do commit suicide."
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.