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Public hearing sees LGBT community push back against ‘What Is a Woman’ bill

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The House Health Committee room was packed Wednesday during a public hearing where a bill to codify into law the definitions of men and women saw considerable opposition from LGBT activists.

House Bill 405 from Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover is known as the What Is a Woman Act. The bill has already amassed considerable opposition when on Tuesday, hundreds of LGBT activists rallied at the Alabama State House, calling on lawmakers to vote the bill down, along with other bills they say target marginalized communities.

During the public hearing on Wednesday, 11 people had asked to speak in opposition to the bill, with one person – Becky Gerritson, executive director of the conservative nonprofit Alabama Eagle Forum – speaking in support.

“Common sex-based words are used thousands of times in state law, but recently, activists have sought to redefine these words and separate sex from biology,” DuBose said when introducing her bill.

“So why do we need this bill? If we don’t codify the definition of common sex-based terms, laws that prohibit sex discrimination will cease to mean anything at all, and single-sex private spaces will disappear.”

DuBose went on to say that she respected the rights of individuals to identify with genders they most associate themselves with, and that her bill addressed definitions regarding sex and not gender.

Rep. Susan DuBose explains her What Is a Woman Act bill during the public forum as activists look on.

Among those speaking against the bill was Patricia Todd, a former member of the Alabama House who represented District 54 in Birmingham from 2006 to 2018. The first openly gay elected official in the state, Todd said DuBose’s bill would be “opening up a door” for discrimination against the transgender community.

“I don’t understand what the obsession is with the trans community,” Todd said. “In Alabama, we have a lot of problems; we have a prison crisis, we have a health care crisis, we have a lot of problems that we need to be focusing on. This is not a crisis.”

Cassandra Williamson, who participated in the rally at the House the day before, said that as the executive director of the Transgender & Diverse Veterans of America, she would use her influence in Washington, D.C. to dissuade officials from selecting Huntsville as the location for the Space Command headquarters.

“I’ve got some friends in the White House who are asking me to tell them where Alabama stands on equality for all people, particularly around these definitions of words,” Williamson said. 

“They want to know if I would recommend that the Space Force move its headquarters to Huntsville. A vote for this will be something I will notify the White House, that we will certainly not recommend moving the Space Force here. I can tell you, the friends I have run military and veterans offices in the White House, so it would behoove you to please vote against this. It’s wrong on so many levels.”

As the LGBT activists, which included a biologist and an aerospace engineer at Redstone Arsenal, continued to speak out against the bill, Gerritson of the Alabama Eagle Forum took her opportunity to speak in support of DuBose’s proposal, arguing that single-sex spaces such as locker rooms and bathrooms could be compromised without such legislation.

“Hormones and surgeries do not alter our female or male DNA,” she said. “Ignoring the true biological differences between the sexes exposes females to specific forms of violence.

“Eagle Forum stands with women in Alabama, for their right to privacy, safety and dignity in single sex spaces.”

Three committee members expressed concerns with the bill, with Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, saying that defining sex was “out of our arena.”

“We’re really messing with nature; God has made all of us, and he’s made us human beings, and when we sit down and try to tell a person who they are and what their desires are, that’s not our business,” Warren said. 

“This is to protect women? When it comes to abortion, a woman doesn’t even have a right anymore, so I just feel that in instances like this, we need to stay out of folks’ business (and) let things happen as they happen because who knows what your son, your daughter might want to do?”

When the public forum concluded, DuBose remained to speak with the bill’s opponents, who shared with her the potential impacts of her legislation on the LGBT community.

The bill could get a committee vote next week. The legislative session is expected to end by mid-June. 

Alabama Daily News intern Anna Barrett contributed to this report.

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