A New Alabama Law Restricts DEI Programs and Includes an Anti-Trans Bathroom Ban

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a sweeping anti-diversity bill into law on Wednesday, approving a Republican plan that also includes an anti-transgender bathroom ban on college campuses.

Senate Bill 129 prohibits any state agency or educational institution from sponsoring or mandating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. The bill vaguely defines a DEI event or program as one “where attendance is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation,” and classifies its portrayal of DEI as “divisive concepts” that cannot be part of an educator’s lessons. Only if “no state funds are used to sponsor these programs” would a school or government office be allowed to continue DEI work.

The bill, which takes effect October 1, also carves out one explicit exception to its supposed anti-discrimination rules: transgender people in university bathrooms. The law holds that “[e]ach public institution of higher education shall ensure that every multiple occupancy restroom be designated for use by individuals based on their biological sex,” effectively forcing trans students and staff alike to either out themselves or use only single-occupant facilities.

In a statement opposing SB 129 last month, free speech advocacy group PEN America called the bill “the most pernicious educational gag order” since Florida’s “Stop WOKE” Act, noting that its definition of “divisive concepts” appears to be drawn from a 2020 executive order by then-President Donald Trump.

On March 6, a day before it was passed by the state House of Representatives, students from 10 universities across Alabama gathered at the Montgomery State House to protest the bill, alleging that Republican legislators had refused to speak with them. “They say that we’re their futures, and yet they are technically trying to take our futures away from us, which doesn’t make any sense,” said Neph Irvin, a sophomore at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, in comments to the student newspaper The Crimson White. “We shouldn’t have to go back in history.”

Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin, a Democrat, lambasted the bill in a committee hearing in February, telling Republicans that “if supporting inclusion becomes illegal in this state, hell, you might as well stand in front of the school door like Governor Wallace,” referencing infamous Alabama segregationist George Wallace.