HELENA -- A bill that would protect kids from getting in trouble at school if they refer to a transgender peer by their sex assigned at birth or by the wrong name passed the Senate Friday on a vote of 30-20 after making it through the House of Representatives. 

House Bill 361 would protect kids who misgender or misname peers from disciplinary action. The bill includes a clause that prohibits bullying after an amendment was added in the House Judiciary Committee. 

Rep. Brandon Ler, R-Savage, is the Sponsor of HB 361, but Sen. Keith Regier carried it in the Senate. Regier said kids shouldn’t get in trouble for accidentally using the wrong name or pronouns for a peer and the bill would not protect kids who are taunting or bullying a peer with their deadname. 

“When John Doe has been in school with classmates for years, and then changes his name, it can be confusing to students. They shouldn't be punished for mistakes in referring to John as they knew him,” Regier said. 

The bill’s proponents have consistently used the same argument that Regier made on the Senate floor since it was introduced into the Legislature two months ago: Children shouldn’t be punished for what they don’t understand. 

During the bill’s initial hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, kids as young as elementary schoolers stood in front of a panel of lawmakers to oppose the bill, arguing that they should have rights. A lawmaker on the committee said he saw some of the kids crying in the hall after they gave their testimony. 

Opponents also reiterated this week what they’ve been saying from the start -- that this bill would allow for discrimination against children and is carving out a specific group of kids and then giving protections to their classmates. 

Many have referred to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, that reports half of all trans kids seriously consider suicide. One quarter of them reported having made a suicide attempt.

Sen. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, stood up and urged her colleagues to seriously think about what this bill could do to Montana’s children and what passing it could mean to Montana’s gender-diverse community. She urged them to think for themselves and separate Montana from national trends. 

“We've all heard the old saying, sticks and stones don't break my bones and words may never hurt me. Well, that saying is a bunch of bologna because words do hurt," he said.

Proponents of the bill said this bill is simple, non-discriminatory and an easy decision to pass. Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, said the bill’s policy isn’t a new concept and it doesn’t allow bullying. 

“I would just like to remind the body that this issue of compelling the use of pronouns has been adjudicated by the courts. In a federal court in Ohio, a Supreme Court in Virginia and appellate court in California. One cannot be compelled to use the pronouns that do not align with another person's sex. And this is, you know, this is not even going that far. This just says it, it won't rise to the definition of bullying. So this is an easy yes,” Manzella said.  

HB 361 will now be sent to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto. 

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