Transgender rights advocates protest bathroom bill at state Capitol

FILE - A demonstrator holds up a sign during a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Lisbon, March 31, 2022. At least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the United States in 2022, the Human Rights Campaign announced Wednesday, Nov. 16, in its annual report ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, Nov. 20. (AP Photo/Armando Franca, File)

More than 50 transgender rights advocates gathered in front of the Arkansas Capitol on Friday to protest a bill that aims to make it a crime for a person to knowingly remain in a bathroom of the opposite sex while a minor is present.

Protesters sang, heard from speakers and demonstrated against Senate Bill 270, which some opponents have said would create the most extreme anti-transgender law in America if enacted. At one point, demonstrators placed pieces of toilet paper bearing photos of lawmakers in a wastebasket decorated as a toilet to express their opposition.

"What do we do with transphobia?" asked Tien Estell, advocacy coordinator for Intransitive Arkansas, while leading a chant.

"Flush it down," the crowd responded.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Payton, R-Wilburn, has said the measure is needed to protect children. Payton told the Senate on Wednesday he considers the legislation to be a compromise and noted the measure would cover both "transgender" and "heterosexual" people.

"The bottom line is this bill does not make it illegal for somebody to use the wrong bathroom if it does not match up with their sex unless there is a child present," he said.

Sarah Everett, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, told demonstrators Friday that her organization would keep up their opposition to the bill.

"We at the ACLU of Arkansas, with all of you, will do everything in our power to prevent this from becoming law and, if it does, to prevent it from taking effect," she said. "We're not going anywhere."

Payton pulled his bill from the Senate floor Wednesday to address a drafting error. The legislation is scheduled to appear in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.