Student Op-Eds

Transgender Rights in California

Sarah Kaboly ’16

 On August 7, 2013, the nation’s first law providing equality for transgender students was passed by the California State Senate by a 21-9 vote. Transgender activists viewed the passage of the law as a long sought after victory in the fight for equal rights. Most widely known at Assembly Bill 1266, the law provides that a student can participate in sex-segregated activities, such as team sports, in accordance with their own gender identity, even if that is in conflict with the gender they are formally recognized as. Certain areas of California, notably San Francisco and Los Angeles, have already adopted policies similar to this.

The law has received strong criticism from the right. A spokesman for the conservative Family Research Council called the law “extreme” and said that it aimed to “include the two most controversial and explosive aspects” of any laws that had tried to pass previously. Those against the law complain of its broadness and ability to be applied in a way not originally intended. Frank Schubert, an activist with the Proposition 8 effort to ban gay marriage, said that under the new law any student who claimed to be a girl “can go into the girls’ showers and bathroom and the locker room.” Shubert believes this is harmful to the safety and interests of other students. He and others contend that the bill allows a way for a male student to declare ‘to be’ a she, thus being permitted use of the girl’s locker room and so invading the privacy of the female students. Although a case like this has never been documented, the law is still being implemented. Other opponents of the bill hold that the law protects the interests of a minority of students rather than the majority. In addition, The Huffington Post reported that some opponents of the bill, including California pastor Jack Hibbs, have called the law “an affront on God.” Pastor Hibbs spoke out against the bill on a weekly podcast, calling it “the most aggressive, the most dangerous bit of legislation against the child and against family.”

Conservative activists plan to submit a petition to the State of California which could lead to the law being overturned. A Time Magazine article entitled “California’s Battle Over Transgender Student Rights,” is centered on the potential overturn of the law. On November 11th, Frank Schubert and other opponents plan to turn in a petition with over 700,000 signatures collected over three months. In order for a referendum on the law to be granted only 505,000 signatures would need to be submitted or roughly 5% of those who voted in the most recent governor’s race.

The backlash comes after a recent string of legislation passed in favor of transgender students. Over the summer the Department of Justice ruled that a transgender student’s school district was required to give him access to the men’s facilities. Last year first grader Cory Mathis won a similar case in which she was granted access to the women’s restroom. While transgender activists are happy to see these laws being passed, Geoff Kors, an activist for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argues that the debate and reaction against these laws only further hurt transgender students these laws aim to protect. With many falling on both sides of the issue this law, and others like it, will continue to be front page news in the months and years to come.