Possible repeal of transgender student law would not change existing protections

Ashton Lee, 16, a  transgender boy from Manteca and advocate for the law. Credit: Gay-Straight Alliance Network

Ashton Lee, 16, a transgender boy from Manteca and advocate for the law. Credit: Gay-Straight Alliance Network

As efforts to overturn a new law allowing transgender students to use bathroom facilities and participate in sports teams consistent with their gender identity gain momentum, repeal of the law would have no impact on many existing policies protecting transgender rights in youth sports, according to legal advocates.

It would also, they say, not affect more comprehensive anti-discrimination policies in four school districts, including Los Angeles Unified.

Privacy for All Students, a Sacramento-based coalition of advocacy and religious groups, said this week that it had submitted 620,000 signatures – some 115,000 more than the 505,000 signatures required by the California Secretary of State – to put a referendum on the ballot challenging Assembly Bill 1266, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Aug. 12. The law allows transgender students to participate in school sports teams and other activities, and to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities consistent with a student’s gender identity, regardless of the gender listed on the student’s records.

Repeal of the law, said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Privacy for All Students, would give local school districts the flexibility to “seek less intrusive alternatives, such as access to a teacher’s facility, a single-stall restroom, private changing times” rather than allowing transgender students to use general student bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. Schubert is the national political director for the National Organization for Marriage, which was heavily involved in organizing for the 2008 ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages, known as Proposition 8.

Even if the referendum were successful, repeal of the law would not affect existing California and federal laws, or school district and California Interscholastic Federation policies, that offer some protection for transgender students, said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, an Oakland-based organization that is involved in litigation across the country. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination at school on the basis of gender identity, Turner said, but don’t provide detail about what that means for school districts. The number of transgender adults is estimated to be about 0.5 percent of the state’s population, and the percentage of transgender youth would be lower, Turner said. The term transgender refers to those who identify with a gender that differs from their sex.

Turner said repeal of the law would not affect the new regulation recently put in place by the California Interscholastic Federation that allows transgender students to participate in athletic events based on their gender identity – a boy who has established an identity as a girl playing on a girls’ basketball team, for instance.

The Federation, the governing body for high school sports in the state, secured protections for transgender student athletes in February 2013 when it voted to include in its bylaws the statement that all students should have the opportunity to participate in high school sports activities “in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.” That bylaw took effect Aug. 1.

Four school districts – Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified, San Rafael City Schools and Willits Unified – have policies in place to allow transgender students to participate in all aspects of school life according to their self-identified gender, according to Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. Those policies also would not change if the law is repealed. Laub’s group and others have created a website called Support All Students to explain the law and its implementation to parents, students and teachers.

In Los Angeles, the district has had a transgender inclusion policy since 2005, said Judy Chiasson, coordinator in the Office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity of Los Angeles Unified. “What our policy states is that transgender boys and transgender girls get to go to school like all other boys and girls,” Chiasson said. “It has worked out incredibly well.”

She added, “It solves problems, it does not cause them. Because of our transgender policies and practices, our transgender students are able to engage in their education and feel part of the school community.”

Karen England, co-chair of Privacy for All Students, said the new law “violates the rights and privacy of 99 percent of students” and “mandates that you allow the mixing of showering and restrooms with biological boys and girls.”

“How bad is AB 1266, the co-ed bathroom bill?” the organization asks in a downloadable flier on its website. “It’s awful. This legislation invades the privacy of our children while they are in the most vulnerable areas of a school – showers, rest rooms and locker rooms. The bill allows any student to use the facilities reserved for the opposite sex simply by asserting a vague ‘gender identity.’ The bill contains no definitions, rules, standards or guidelines. It simply creates a right for students of the opposite sex to use the most sensitive private areas at school.”

Campaign manager Schubert said in an email, “To be certain, we do not believe that opening private areas of schools such as showers and bathrooms to members of the biologic sex is an appropriate response to concerns about bullying, but at least when left to local school districts parents have an opportunity to help shape and change policies as they are developed and implemented.”

If the signatures are validated, the new law would not go into effect as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2014. Instead, the referendum would ask voters in November 2014 to either uphold or repeal the law. A referendum is far less common than the ballot initiatives Californians have grown accustomed to – fewer than 50 referendums have been put on the state ballot in the last 100 years and fewer than 25 have been successful, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

Supporters of the referendum include the California Republican Party and a coalition of religious groups. A number of significant financial contributions helped support the group in its signature-gathering drive. Large donors reported by the campaign this week included Florida columnist Rebecca Hagelin and her husband, who donated $25,000 to the campaign; Colorado residents Kenneth and Roberta Eldred, co-founders of the Christian charity grant-maker Living Stones Foundation, who gave $10,000; and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto, who gave $10,000. Sean Fieler, president of the hedge fund Equinox Partners in New York, gave $80,000 in September, $70,000 in October and $50,000 in November.

Supporters of Assembly Bill 1266, which was authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, include the California State PTA, the California Association of School Counselors, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health. Contact her or follow her @JaneAdams. Subscribe here for EdHealth, EdSource Today’s free newsletter on student health.

Filed under: Elections, Legislation, Reforms, State Education Policy, Student Health

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4 Responses to “Possible repeal of transgender student law would not change existing protections”

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  1. Edith Pilkington on Nov 17, 2013 at 10:02 am11/17/2013 10:02 am

    • 000

    “The number of transgender adults is estimated to be about 0.5 percent of the state’s population, and the percentage of transgender youth would be lower, Turner said. The term transgender refers to those who identify with a gender that differs from their sex.”

    Conceptualizing the entire situation this way is very misleading and inaccurate. The problem is with the way “transgender” is defined by equating the concept of transgender with an “identity” that is opposite to one’s sex. The reality of sex and the conclusions one comes to regarding sense of self and one’s place in a world split in two can be very complicated. It is recognized that a much higher percent of humans, somewhere between 1 and 2%, are not even standard male or female to begin with. If one recognizes this and acknowledges that this is so, which it is, it should make it obvious that there are many with sense of self/gender assignment conflicts where the issue is far more complicated than having an identity “opposite” to a sex. After, and even during transsexual treatment, the characterization that one simply has an identity “opposite” to a gender assigned at birth becomes less and less accurate as the person in question becomes more and more the sex described as “opposite” when such definitions of the relatively new term “transgender” are constructed this way.

    It’s too bad I feel a need to barge in here and say this. This whole issue should not be a matter of public debate. It is so misunderstood. The fact that these policies have been in place for years in various school districts without incident indicates the amount of incitement these right wing groups are capable of stirring up among a public who would, otherwise, never have the time to be bothered with anything of such little consequence to anyone other than the people directly involved.

  2. el on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:34 am11/14/2013 8:34 am

    • 000


    Simple reality here is that adolescents of every gender or sexual identity need and deserve the option for privacy, and the design of locker rooms should anticipate that.

    If someone has a problem with a transgender student in their locker room, let that student use the teacher’s facility or private changing times.


    • el on Nov 14, 2013 at 8:37 am11/14/2013 8:37 am

      • 000

      Replying to myself for absolute clarity: the student who has a problem and who desires absolute privacy is the one who should inconvenience themselves with the special accommodation. But in my day… this was pretty much everyone and we used the locker room as little and as privately as possible.

  3. CarolineSF on Nov 14, 2013 at 7:38 am11/14/2013 7:38 am

    • 000

    I keep trying to figure this concept out:

    Karen England, co-chair of Privacy for All Students, said the new law “violates the rights and privacy of 99 percent of students” and “mandates that you allow the mixing of showering and restrooms with biological boys and girls.”

    If the concern is that a student who uses the same restroom as your kid (or showers with your kid — do any schools still have showers? Not in SFUSD) might be attracted to your kid’s gender, how do the Privacy for All Students figure that’s not going to happen if transgender students have to use single-sex facilities for their original biological gender? Seems unclear on the concept.

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