Metro Weekly

Push to repeal California law protecting transgender students fails

California state capitol.jpg

A new California law providing protections for transgender public school students will not qualify for a voter referendum after a petition drive to place the law on the November ballot came up short.

In November, opponents of a law that would make California the first state to mandate public schools provide equal access to all school activities, sports teams, programs and facilities for students who identity as transgender turned in more than 619,000 petition signatures in hopes of putting the law before voters. However, a review of those signatures from California’s 58 counties found only 487,484 valid, with the state requiring 504,760 valid signatures in order to put the law before voters.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the School Success and Opportunity Act into law last August after it was approved by California lawmakers and it took effect Jan. 1. It requires “a pupil 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.”

The new law is similar to statewide policies in Massachusetts and Colorado that require schools to respect students’ gender identity. A broad coalition backed the legislation, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Equality California, Gender Spectrum and the Transgender Law Center. 

According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, existing California law already prohibits discrimination against transgender students, but Assembly Bill 1266 specifically calls upon public schools to respect the identity of transgender students in terms of school activities such as sports. With physical education credits a requirement for graduation, the National Center for Lesbian Rights notes that transgender students have been left without a support network in the past, which has negatively impacted their ability to graduate. 

“This law gives schools the guidelines and flexibility to create an environment where all kids have the opportunity to learn,” said Transgender Law Center executive eirector and campaign chair Masen Davis in a statement. “We need to focus on creating an environment where every student is able to do well and graduate. This law is about doing what’s best for all students – that’s why it’s supported by school boards, teachers, and the PTA.”

The law found opposition in the form of a right-wing coalition led by the national political director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), Frank Schubert, who has roots in helping to put California’s same-sex marriage law before voters in the form of Proposition 8 in 2008. Opponents of the transgender student-rights law, including NOM President Brian Brown, argued it was an attempt by activists to “strip society of all gender roles and uses children as a weapon in their culture war.” 

“The forces of discrimination tried to go after California’s LGBT young people, and it’s a sign of our progress that they fell short of their goal,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement.”Yet unfortunately there are groups out there that are actively working to make the lives of LGBT youth harder. This law does nothing more than safeguard transgender students from being excluded and ensures all students are provided the same opportunities – regardless of gender identity.” 

[Photo: California State Capitol. Credit: Alex Proimos/Wikimedia Commons.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.