California gives transgender students right to choose bathrooms, sports activities

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

California has become the first state to enshrine rights for transgender K-12 students in state law.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Aug. 12 that he had signed AB1266, which requires public schools to allow students access to whichever restroom and locker room they want. The law also allows transgender students “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-identification, regardless of their birth gender.

“It’s definitely a model example of going beyond a nondiscrimination policy and saying, ‘We’re going to actively include transgender and gender nonconforming students,’” said Brian Juchems, co-director of the GSAFE in Madison.

Supporters of the California law said it will help reduce bullying and discrimination against transgender students. The law comes at a time when families of transgender students have been waging local battles with school districts across the country over what restrooms and locker rooms their children can use – disagreements that have sometimes landed in court.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU of California were among the bill’s supporters. Detractors, including Republican lawmakers, said allowing students of one gender to use facilities intended for the other could invade the other students’ privacy.

Karen England, executive director of the right-wing Capitol Resource Institute, criticized the Legislature and governor for spreading “San Francisco values” throughout the state.

“The answer is not to force something this radical on every single grade in California,” she said of the new law.

Carlos Alcala, spokesman for Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, the bill’s author, said that conservatives’ fears are overblown. In general, he said, transgender students are trying to blend in and are not trying to call attention to themselves.

“They’re not interested in going into bathrooms and flaunting their physiology,” Alcala said.

He also noted that the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has had such a policy for nearly a decade and reported no problems. San Francisco schools also have had a policy similar to the new law, and numerous other districts signed on in support of the legislation.

“Clearly, there are some parents who are not going to like it,” Alcala said. “We are hopeful school districts will work with them so no students are put in an uncomfortable position.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance Network said two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have statewide policies granting the same protections, but California is the first to put them into statute and require them in all school districts.

Juchems said that GSAFE would like to see such a law enacted in Wisconsin but added, “We still have a long way to go.” GSAFE currently is working with school districts to enact nondiscrimination policies that include transgender and gender nonconforming students.

Although the state’s pioneering 1982 nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation, it does not include gender identity and expression. Earlier this year, GSAFE succeeded in getting the McFarland and Oregon school districts in Dane County to enact polices that include specific protections for those students.

“These policies can be important first steps for the safety of transgender and gender nonconforming students,” Juchems said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report