Transgender students in California public schools will now get to decide which restrooms and locker rooms they will use thanks to a new law signed by Governor Jerry Brown last week. With Brown's signature, the state becomes the first in the country to protect the rights of transgender children at the state level.
The students covered by the law will be able to make choices about all sex-segregated activities based not on their birth gender but on their "self-perception," according to the Associated Press. Those who have fought for the law and support its passage believe that this will make schools a more welcoming environment for children who are struggling with their gender identity and will reduce harassment and bullying for transgender students.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU of California were among the bill's supporters. Detractors, including some Republican lawmakers, said allowing students of one gender to use facilities intended for the other could invade the other students' privacy.
Such fears are overblown, said Carlos Alcala, spokesman for the bill's author, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco. 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.
Alcala pointed to districts like LAUSD and San Francisco where such policies have been in place for nearly 10 years without issue. Los Angeles and San Francisco both support the measure with a number of other districts around the state doing likewise.
Alcala conceded that the new rules will not sit well with all parents, but said he is hopeful that school districts will offer resources for those families that need time and help to adjust to the policy.
Brown signed the bill, which amends the state Education Code, without comment. Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the law "puts California at the forefront of leadership on transgender rights."
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.
A Sacramento-based conservative organization that opposed the bill said previous state law was sufficient to address the concerns of transgender students and their families. Before Brown signed AB1266, state law already prohibited schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity.
Executive director of Capitol Resource Institute Karen England – who opposes the new law – said that it was an example of the government trying to impose its own moral judgment on all parents in California.