California’s Battle Over Transgender Student Rights

A landmark law is about to face a big challenge from social conservatives

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AP

In this photo made Monday, July 9, 2012 in St. Paul, Minn., Frank Schubert, who was a well-paid consultant, prays his daily rosary before Mass at the St. Paul Cathedral.

The latest battle in California is over 37 words. They are the final clause in a law that Gov. Jerry Brown signed this summer affirming the rights of transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that align with their gender identity. On Friday, groups led by the same strategist who masterminded the successful drive to ban gay marriage in California will submit a petition to the state that could lead to the landmark measure being overturned.

Opponents of the statute, the first of its kind in the United States, say the language is too broad and that it neglects the privacy rights of most students for the benefit of a few. Supporters say the measure helps foster acceptance for transgender students, who can feel alienated by the rigid gender distinctions of his-or-her bathrooms and school sports teams.

The law’s challengers need to submit 505,000 valid signatures from California residents, roughly 5% of voters who cast ballots in the most recent governor’s race, to get a referendum to overturn it on the ballot in November. Frank Schubert, the consultant who spearheaded the Proposition 8 effort to ban gay marriage that was overturned by the Supreme Court this summer, has rallied social conservatives. He says by Monday they hope to turn in more than 700,000 signatures, amassed over three months by volunteers, paid workers, direct mail and more than 750 churches.

Here is the passage at the heart of the matter:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

Schubert says there would not be a push for a referendum if the language had included more caveats, like requiring that transgender students had an established history of presenting themselves as male or female. As it’s worded, he believes that non-transgender teenagers will abuse the law, though he concedes there are no documented cases to back up those fears. “Somebody claiming to be a girl can go into the girls’ showers and bathroom and the locker room and can play on the girls sports team,” he says. “There are no procedures to balance the interest of all students.”

Some of the law’s supporters, like Geoff Kors, paint organizations pushing the referendum as “LGBT hate groups.” Kors, a policy strategist for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says that fighting against the law only hurts the population at the center of the debate. “Just their doing that is harmful to transgender students who are trying to go to school and fit in with their classmates,” he says. “They’re hearing these horrific messages about who they are.”

California already had numerous anti-discrimination laws on the books. Schubert sees the existing measures as evidence that this one is unnecessary, as well as “offensive” in its unqualified terms. Kors acknowledges that other legal precedents, like a case settled by the Department of Justice this summer, can be used to require similar access to facilities and programs. But this measure, he says, is useful in providing such “unambiguous language that we wouldn’t have to continue to bring lawsuits against schools to get them to enforce the law.”

A more fundamental point of contention is whether gender is a flexible social construct or a fixed fact. “We introduce this concept called gender identity and I don’t have any idea what that is,” Schubert says. “You can change your appearance, you can change your presentation. You cannot change your gender.” Ashton Lee, a transgender student in California who has become an outspoken advocate for the law, describes being transgender as trying to match his body to what he feels in his heart and mind. “There are some people who are confused by the idea,” he says, “and there are some people who are unwilling to accept the idea.”

The high school junior recently filed a legal complaint with his mother against one of the groups pushing the referendum. Lee says that though the law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, the awareness it created has already helped inspire changes at his school—including his use of the boys’ bathroom. “It just feels better than having to be the kid that uses the staff bathroom or being the boy in the girls bathroom or not being about to use it at all,” he says. “It’s just helps get me to being normal at my school.”

The fight in California comes as Washington remains deeply divided over matters of gay rights. On Nov. 7, the U.S. Senate passed legislation extending workplace protections to the LGBT community. Like Schubert, House Republicans who oppose the measure argue that necessary anti-discrimination measures are already in place. Obama has urged the House to pass the bill.

It will be weeks, at the earliest, before California officials count and validate the signatures submitted this weekend. If the threshold is passed, the law will be suspended until the vote next November. And the campaigning, on both sides, will begin.

18 comments
Hotpuppy
Hotpuppy

Amazing.... school shouldn't be about sex.  I've thought for years that bathroom activities should be private.  Sinks and mirrors should be in public, toilets should be in individual rooms with a lockable door.  Each room should have the facilities and space required for accessibility.  Just because you aren't in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can fit in a 24" wide stall.  The rooms should be thoroughly divided, not just a panel.  This allows individuals to do their business in a manner that suits them.  We need toilets, not sex rooms.  We need equality, not segregation.  That equality should be accommodating of all body types and all beliefs.  

LianneSimon
LianneSimon

You would think both sides could agree on common sense rules that protect all the kids. 

It continues to amaze me that there is such a fuss in California. Is it possible that Georgia has more sense when it comes to this issue? I interviewed the mother of a transgender girl who is attending public school here. School officials decided to allow the girl to use the girl's room and I haven't heard of any public outcry.

http://www.liannesimon.com/2013/08/21/ga-allows-transgender-girl-to-use-oh-my-the-girls-room/


BrianPodgajski
BrianPodgajski

Educate yourselves before pushing your narrow minded ideals on others, 1 in 100 child births are inter-sexed your simple gender box bathrooms of "male" and "female" leave roughly 3,000,000 people in this country unsure of which bathroom YOU would like them to use.

DeeOmally
DeeOmally

http://wp.me/p1hX86-2l

I am that transgender child, all grown up. I grew up wondering why my birth sex conflicted with my identified sex. Military service didn't get rid of it. Please before you jump to conclusions about anything, I ask that you read the essay I wrote from the perspective of a transgender person who went through it years before the internet, without knowing that there was a remedy. 

You will conclude that, as some comments below reflect, transgender children are nowhere even close to being the sexual deviants or predatory creatures that the media is falsely portraying. I detail at least 20 ways how AB 1266 (recently enacted CA statute) is falsely being portrayed. I promise you that once you hear it directly from a transgender person such as I, you will at least develop a fair perspective on the matter.

A transgender child doesn't vacillate with his or her gender. A transgender child identifies solidly with the gender opposite of birth sex which causes the anguish behind not being able to live with gender/body alignment. Legally and medically (the very reason AB 1266 passed in the first place), transgender children are the gender they claim to be. Please discount those who claim otherwise-----nobody wants boys in the girls rooms, not even transgender females. The entire premise that incites fear....the lie that boys will be allowed into female areas....is completely and utterly false.

KelleyDavis
KelleyDavis

I work with a transgender student.  Back away from the children creeps. Your prejudice is not welcome on our campuses. :(

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

Transgender "rights" in a nutshell:

If today they are feeling their masculine side, it's the men's room.

If tomorrow they are feeling their feminine side, it's the women's room.

.

In democrat-controlled California the urges of the 1% are more important the needs of 99%.

Sue_N
Sue_N

It's encouraging to see that we as a society are finally beginning to deal with equality issues for all people. Hopefully California is leading the way to a new enlightenment.

Thanks for this, Katy, and please keep us updated.

DeeOmally
DeeOmally

@mary.waterton MYTH ALERT Perhaps you didn't consult my link above detailing 20 myths such as this one..................


"information is often constructive..........misinformation is always destructive"

(coined by Dee......on impulse)

TaoRaven
TaoRaven

@mary.waterton Please educate yourself on the condition before posting such wildly inaccurate claims. Ignorance does not help anyone, and only contributes to the confusion and mis-understanding that is prevalent in this issue.

JohnHillsbery
JohnHillsbery

Would you want your daughter showering with guys? This law would allow them too.

DeeOmally
DeeOmally

@JohnHillsbery The first and critical flaw here is the word "guys", which despite your opinion and many others John, transgender persons (verified of course) are never considered medically or legally to be the sex we were born. The second flaw is the assumption that private shower stalls will not be provided for obvious reasons---which they most surely will just as many gyms for adults now do which is welcome by pre-op transgender persons as well.


The third critical flaw is the presumption that others will lose privacy for sexual reasons.......well perhaps a reminder is in order that lewd conduct isn't given free license for either straight, gay, or trans students. Whether the classroom, the restroom, or the locker room, students are and will continue to be required to behave properly.

TaoRaven
TaoRaven

@JohnHillsbery They're not guys. They are women who were born with a birth defect that resulted in incorrect physical characteristics. Please educate yourself on the condition, and refrain from spreading mis-information. Thanks.

JohnHillsbery
JohnHillsbery

What I'm getting at is if some transgender whos a guy on the outside should be allowed to just walk into a girls shower un announced? Or do you think they should wear a sign around there neck? You need to look at both sides of the issue before you put both in a really bad position.

JohnHillsbery
JohnHillsbery

Go shower with guys at a gym and tell me how comfortable you feel?


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