Lawmakers get earful during Thursday public hearing regarding proposed ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “I don’t know every person in West Virginia who is non-binary or transgender, but I do know that I would rather share a bathroom with any of them than a single one of the six female legislators who sponsored this bill.”

That’s what Planned Parenthood’s Sarah Hutson told members of the House Judiciary Committee Thursday morning, regarding HB 5243 – the proposed “Women’s Bill of Rights.” Hutson spoke as part of the committee’s public hearing in the House Chamber. 

“There is not a bill in the world that you can pass that will make a transgender child anything but who they are, and I’m so glad for that,” Hutson continued. “Every transgender person in this state is perfect and loved just the way they are.”

The self-titled “Women’s Bill of Rights,” introduced by lead-sponsor Del. Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam, seeks to legally define the terms “men,” “women,” “boys,” and “girls,” and adds the caveat, “There are only two sexes, and every individual is either male or female.” 

“This Legislative body in West Virginia is made up of 11.9% women, in a state that is over 50% women,” said Chris Smith, while also speaking in opposition of HB 5243. “In the West Virginia State Senate alone there are more men named ‘Mike’ than there are women representing us.” 

Chris Smith addresses members of the House Judiciary Committee in the House Chamber during a public hearing Thursday, regarding HB 5243.

“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” Smith continued. “It is an insult to propose a bill that only serves to push a hateful agenda. It’s no surprise to me that this bill doesn’t address violence, menstrual healthcare and breastfeeding equity, nor does it care about protecting incarcerated women, immigrant women, or women of color.”

“Don’t use this phony appeal to bigotry to say you actually care about women,” Smith added.

On the other side of the debate was Nyla Thompson, who shared an experience with lawmakers in which she said she was made to feel uncomfortable by the presence of a biological male in a female changing room. 

“I walked into my dance class changing room to see a male standing in the female’s locker room,” Thompson said. “Not only would he go into the changing room and not even change, but he would stand there and watch as other biological females undressed.”

According to Thompson, when her concerns were addressed with school administrators, she was told to use the male changing room as it was unused during this time. 

“HB 5243 will end inadequate policies such as the one the school board provided,” Thompson added. “The school board made it clear that my rights are not valued, but HB 5243 guarantees my rights, safety, privacy, and protection.”

Nyla Thompson addresses members of the House Judiciary Committee in the House Chamber during a public hearing Thursday, regarding HB 5243.

“I dropped the class and switched to one that does not subject me to being exposed in front of the opposite sex,” Thompson noted. “Any policy that forces this type of exposure is abuse, and nothing short of that.”

Also speaking in opposition was Thompson’s mother, Shayna. 

“No woman of any age should have to endure what my daughter did in the locker room at her school,” Shayna Thompson said. “I hope my words will strengthen your resolve and encourage you to vote for HB 5243 as it is written. It protects women of all ages and children of both sexes. It leaves no ambiguity about the definition of a woman, and no room for reinterpretation later.”

The “Women’s Bill of Rights’” chief criticism, it would seem, is its apparent lack of guarantees or protections to the current rights of women, or the creation of any new ones going forward, a point which speaker Bill Lepp stressed when delivering his remarks. 

“I’m a straight, white, Christian guy, and I think this bill is a total joke,” Lepp told committee members. “Why in the world does a bill called the ‘West Virginia Women’s Bill of Rights’ does sperm come into the bill? I don’t get how that works its way in.”

“This bill is not about giving women rights,” Lepp continued. “This bill is about taking rights away from trans-people from the LGBT community. I travel this country 180 days a year doing everything I can to promote West Virginia. And this body (House of Delegates) and the one down the hall (Senate) makes that harder and harder every single day that you vote on this nonsense.”

Disagreeing with Lepp was Elisa Payne, who said, “I am a woman with X chromosomes, and ovaries that produce eggs. I menstruated, had a uterus and a cervix until a hysterectomy. I gave birth three times.”

“Sex is biological, not how you feel,” Payne continued. “This is a physical issue, not an emotional or an affirmation issue. […] Sex starts and stops with chromosomes. Humans are binary with only two chromosomes. The science is settled. The feelings maybe not, but we are binary.”

“You can hack off breasts, penises, and testicles, but you cannot change your chromosomes,” Payne added. 

One speaker opposed to the bill expressed frustration regarding her sense that HB 5243’s future had already been decided before the public hearing ever began. 

“My name is Mollie Kennedy, you don’t care,” Kennedy, community outreach director with ACLU W.Va., told committee members. “We don’t need a ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ to know how this Legislature feels about women. […] When you banned trans-girls from playing sports, when you arrested two women for daring to speak truth to power in this Chamber, when you quoted the Bible and disparaged queer and trans-children and tried to strip them of evidence-based medical care – I knew how you felt when one of you drunk-dialed my colleague and called him a faggot.”

Mollie Kennedy addresses members of the House Judiciary Committee in the House Chamber during a public hearing Thursday, regarding HB 5243.

“You shame queer and trans kids any chance you get,” Kennedy continued. “You oust your colleagues any time they get caught being disgusting to women. But the only difference between them and you is exactly that – they got caught. But we hear how you feel on this floor. We hear it in the hallways, and we warn each other about it when we meet with you in your offices.”

“It is appalling, offensive, and laughable for you to introduce legislation called the ‘Women’s Bill of Rights,’” Kennedy added.

RealWV will provide updates as to the status of HB 5243 as additional details are made available. 

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