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Only one Women’s Rights Bill defines the sexes and then protects girls’ private spaces

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Mississippi State Finance Committee Chairman Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, in the Senate chamber at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • State Sen. Josh Harkins says the SAFER Act provides much-needed sex-based definitions while taking the next step to actually protect women’s safe spaces.

What is a woman? Should males be allowed to use women’s locker rooms, bathrooms, rape and abuse shelters, prisons, dormitories, sorority houses, and other historically female-only spaces? 

In recent polling conducted by Independent Women’s Voice of registered voters in Mississippi, a remarkable 95% thought it was important that Mississippi law protect private spaces for women. Another 87% believed Mississippi law needs to define sex-based terms such as woman, female, man, and male based on biological sex. 

There are good Mississippi bills out there that provide these much-needed sex-based definitions— I support them completely as a first step and sincerely thank my friends behind them. But the definition-only bills do not protect women’s safe spaces. 

The SAFER Act, SB 2753, sponsored by Jeremy England and myself, provides these almost identical definitions and then takes the next step to actually protect women’s safe spaces. The 95% polling from Republicans, Independents, and Democrats across our state I hope further strengthens my fellow lawmakers’ resolve to fight for both steps on behalf of women and girls in our state. In addition, the Mississippi Federation of Republican Women (MFRW) is only one of many groups who have come out in favor of the SAFER Act over a definitions-only bill. Governor Tate Reeves, the father of three daughters, powerfully campaigned on keeping men and boys out of girl’s spaces. 

In 2021, Mississippi passed the Fairness Act, with MFRW behind it, preventing males from competing in sports against girls and women. That was a needed step in the right direction by those who paved the way; but language that would have protected single-sex spaces was not in the final version of this bill. As each year passes, Mississippi women and girls’ safe spaces remain unprotected. 

Do we really need to wait another year to protect women’s safe spaces and risk another Mississippi woman or girl being sexually assaulted for us to finally say no to men overtaking women’s spaces? 

Most of the media and radical activists, unfortunately, will insist that of course men should be allowed in women’s private spaces. Or they will act as if this isn’t a significant issue.

But we know it is. We know this is not right nor fair to the girls and women who are forced to undress in front of fully intact nude males. It’s not fair to the girls across the country who have been raped in girls’-only spaces by males claiming to be women. It’s not fair to women prisoners who have been housed with men (who present as women) and were then raped. It’s not fair to the countless girls and women who have been videotaped or photographed by men while undressing or using the bathroom. 

These aren’t just fears. Or worries about what could happen. These are actual headlines: 

  • A Mississippi man brutally attacked and raped a woman in a bathroom stall at the Gulfport mall. He hid in the bathroom waiting on the woman. 
  • A 38-year-old restaurant worker followed a 12-year-old into Ridgeland Mississippi restaurant bathroom to get her number. He later raped her in his truck.
  • A mother alleged her special needs daughter was raped in a Calloway High School girls’ bathroom.
  • A gender-fluid boy sexually assaulted a young girl in the girls’ bathroom of a Loudoun County, Virginia school. The boy was transferred to another school where he allegedly raped another female in the girls’ bathroom. 
  • In support of an Alabama bill protecting girl’s safe spaces, the sponsor of the bill stated that girls were getting raped in school bathrooms across the state, including a 14-year-old girl and seven other similar cases in just one Alabama county alone. 
  • A Los Angeles man dressed as a woman entered a Macy’s department store bathroom and videotaped women under bathroom stalls. 
  • Man posing as transgender woman raped female prisoner at Rikers, lawsuit says.
  • A convicted child sex abuser dressed as a woman entered the women’s locker room at a water park in Oregon; he was arrested and charged with unlawful contact with a child and unlawfully being in a location where children congregate. 

These are just a few of the many stories that share the same theme: women being violated in their safe spaces. We must protect the privacy and safety of women and girls in historical single-sex spaces, such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms, as so many of these heart-breaking stories show. 

In addition to protecting girls from sexual assault, this bill will protect school districts and other state institutions from lawsuits. A school district in Virginia is already being sued for $30 million for failing to protect a young woman from being raped by a “gender fluid” male who was allowed to use the girls’ restroom. This bill will protect schools from litigation, saving precious resources for teachers in the classroom.

The SAFER Act, SB 2753, passed out of Senate Judiciary A Committee and then passed a full Senate vote. The sister bill in the House, HB 1428, passed out of the House Public Property Committee but failed to be brought up in Judiciary A Committee, thus dying in the House. The Senate version, SB 2753, now returns to the House for another chance at a House Judiciary A Committee vote. 

I ask that we all come together now to not only define men and women for purposes of Mississippi law but to also actually keep same sex spaces separate. Let’s make 2024 the year Mississippi women and girls are finally protected. 

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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