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By Sean Gorman January 18, 2016

Occupy Democrats grossly twists Virginia school bathroom bill

A left-leaning advocacy group says Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, has introduced a bill that would require students to show their privates before using a restroom in a public school in Virginia.

"Virginia Republican wants schools to check children’s genitals before using bathroom," read the headline of a Jan. 12 web post by Occupy Democrats, a group started in 2012 to - in its own words - "counterbalance the Republican Tea Party."

The ensuing article elaborated that Cole’s bill "would force schools to check the genitals of their students in order to ensure that they are using facilities reserved for their ‘anatomical sex.’"

Similar claims have been posted on the websites of at least two other liberal groups: The Raw Story and Peacock Panache, triggering some Internet debate that isn’t exactly flattering to Cole.

We wondered whether the description of Cole’s bill is accurate.

School bathrooms have been a scalding issue in Cole’s district, where some parents have objected to a transgender student’s use of a girls’ lavatory at a Stafford County elementary school.

Officials at the school initially allowed the student to use the girls’ room. But amid an outcry from some parents, the school board reversed that policy and instead directed the student to use a single-stall lavatory at the school, a staff bathroom, or the boys’ restroom.

Cole’s bill would direct school boards across the state to develop policies to ensure that any public school restroom and locker room "designated for use by a specific gender to solely be used by individuals whose anatomical sex matches such gender designation." The legislation defines "anatomical sex" as the "physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy."

That measure, introduced Jan. 11, does not spell out exactly how school officials would verify a student’s gender.

Colin Taylor, the managing editor of Occupy Democrats, and Omar Rivero, the group’s founder, told us in an email that the group "simply took Del. Mark Cole’s offensive proposal to its logical conclusion."

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"How else would an enforcing official determine whether or not the individual's anatomical sex matches Del. Cole's interpretation of binary gender designation?" they wrote. "Are they expecting children or adults to voluntarily turn themselves in? Will they have to submit to inspection by a doctor? Somebody will have to inspect to prove that an individual is or is not anatomically correct.’"

But as our colleagues at the fact-checking website recently noted, there’s nothing in the bill explicitly calling for a genital inspection before students use the bathroom. There are, of course, other possibilities for verification, such as obtaining a doctor’s note, Snopes said.

To clarify the matter, Cole introduced a second restroom bill Jan. 12 that calls for schools to verify a student’s "biological sex" by examining their birth certificate. Both his bills would carry a $50 civil fine for each violation by a student.

Cole issued a written statement Jan. 13 accusing critics of mischaracterizing his bill, which he said attempts to provide clear policies on who can and can’t use a particular bathroom to shield school divisions from lawsuits. He said he introduced the bill at the request of parents in his district.

"Contrary to what has been said about the legislation, it does NOT require genital checks," Cole wrote. He said the legislation would be enforced only when there was a complaint about a student’s choice of bathrooms. "If needed, gender could be verified by looking up student registration information or a birth certificate," he wrote.

Cole told us on Jan. 15 that he will propose an amendment for his bill that will make it crystal clear it does not allow genital inspections.

"It would be, I think, blatantly unconstitutional for someone to conduct such a search," Cole said.

Our ruling

Occupy Democrats said Cole "wants schools to check children’s genitals before using bathroom."

There is nothing in Cole’s bill that says students will be forced to show their private parts to school officials before they can use the restroom. The group defends its statement by saying "it’s the logical conclusion" of legislation that’s silent on how it would be enforced.

But there are other possibilities the group doesn’t consider. Cole suggests using birth certificates and student records to verify a student’s anatomical gender. The loose writing of the bill, which Cole is trying to tighten, leaves the legislator a little bit open to criticism. But it doesn’t entitle Occupy Democrats to make up a genital inspection claim and attach Cole’s name to it.

We rate the group’s claim False.

Our Sources

Occupy Democrats, "Virginia Republican wants schools to check children’s genitals before using bathroom," Jan. 12, 2016.

Email from Occupy Democrats, Jan. 14, 2016.

Interview with Del. Mark Cole, Jan. 15, 2016.

Email from Karen Stuber, legislative assistant for Del. Mark Cole, Jan. 14, 2016.

Snopes, "Cole’s law," Jan. 13, 2016.

Del. Mark Cole, "Delegate Cole files legislation to protect the privacy of schoolchildren and adults," Jan. 13, 2016.

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, "Del. Cole files bill restricting restroom use of transgender people," Jan. 12, 2016.

Legislative Information System, H.B. 663, Jan. 11, 2016.

Legislative Information System, H.B. 781, Jan. 12, 2016.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Susan Stimpson says Bill Howell tied to group seeking ‘mixed-sex bathrooms in schools," April 6, 2015.

Huffington Post, "Creepy Virginia toilet proposal could require genital inspections, critics fear," Jan. 13, 2016.

Peacock Panache, "Va. GOP bill would require inspection of children’s genitals," Jan. 12, 2016.

The Washington Post, "Va. bill would require students to use bathrooms that correspond to the ‘anatomical sex,’" Jan. 15, 2016.

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Occupy Democrats grossly twists Virginia school bathroom bill

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