Transgender equality rights in schools

Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

Update: It was announced today, Aug. 13, that the governor has signed this bill into law. — MS

A bill some say is long overdue and others call controversial has passed both the state Assembly and the full Senate and is expected to be signed into law soon by the governor.

“Pupil Rights: Sex-Segregated School Programs and Activities” (AB 1266, sponsored by state assembly member Tom Ammiano, Democrat from San Francisco), states: “A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs or 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.”

This would require that a public school student in grades kindergarten through 12th be allowed to use school restrooms and locker rooms and participate on sports teams of the gender they identify with, regardless of their biological sex.

According to a July 5 Associated Press story, the bill “sparked an impassioned debate on the Senate floor about when transgender students’ right to expression might conflict with other students’ discomfort and right to privacy.” A challenge to the bill failed.

Mike Grove, associate superintendent of educational services for the San Dieguito Union High School District, said AB 1266 is a one-sentence addition to an existing law that already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill simply spells out in clearer detail the rights of transgender students.

Grove said the bill’s language was taken almost word-for-word from a policy the Los Angeles Unified School District enacted several years ago, and he said three other states – Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts – have similar state laws.

Although some have raised concerns about transgender rights conflicting with the privacy rights of other students, Grove anticipates few problems.

“I doubt it’s going to create major issues,” he said. “It’s probably scaring some people initially based on what they perceive could be issues – all of the what-ifs.”

The fear, he said, is that a biological boy, for example, will wake up one morning and suddenly decide he’s a girl and demand to use the girls’ locker room. But it doesn’t happen that way, he said.

“What I’ve seen in other states is they have a process put in place where the student has to kind of formally declare their gender identity,” he said. “It’s not that one day they decide they’re going to walk into the girls’ locker room.”

It’s a formal process by which the student asserts his or her gender identity and therefore their rights related to that decision, and that generally involves the family and is not a casual determination that happens overnight, he said.

Once a discussion among the student, the family and school officials takes place, and the student decides to be identified as the opposite of their biological sex, then the school will ask the student’s preference about facility use.

Many times the transgender student is not comfortable using the restrooms or lockers rooms of the gender they identify with, Grove said. But the student gets to choose.

Some districts have provided a private restroom, both for the privacy of the transgender student as well as for other students who might not be comfortable with the situation, he said. But that can be problematic if the transgender student is made to feel isolated.

Privacy issues are complicated.

“It’s dicey, because you obviously can’t tell everyone that this student is transgender and will be in the locker room with you because that’s private information for that student,” Grove said.

Thorny social issues

According to a July 9 column by Thom Senzee for The Huffington Post, San Diego transgender rights activist Connor Maddocks says self-identification is key.

“I get to decide who I am, according to the state of California and a growing number of other states,” Maddocks is quoted as saying.

Although many teens are confused about their sexual identity, transgender children can struggle for years and don’t suddenly decide to change their gender identity at the flip of a switch. So this kind of decision is not one made lightly.

But pitting the rights transgender students deserve against the privacy rights of students who object to sharing a bathroom, locker room or shower with a student who is biologically a member of the opposite sex sounds like a perfect storm of legitimate rights vs. legitimate rights.

On the other hand, as a friend said, “People have to learn not to freak out about differences.”

Educators getting by on minimal funding to teach traditional lessons in history, math, science and writing may end up spending dwindling taxpayer money on lawyers over challenges to the bill.

With limited public money, are these the kinds of issues school districts should devote their time and public money to?

Yet schools as the proper place to sort out these thorny social issues has historical validity.

“Schools are a microcosm of our society, so these social issues have always been a part of our schools,” Grove said, referencing the civil rights and free speech movements from the 60s.

“Schools have always been a place where these issues can be volatile because you have this community of all these differing beliefs and political views,” he said. “They play themselves out in schools.”

But he said having students personally involved in movements that raise social consciousness can produce profound changes in awareness and understanding.

“Kids can read about civil rights in a textbook, but this is where they see it playing out in real life,” he said. “And I believe that’s educational for kids and beneficial.”

Transgender students at San Dieguito

San Dieguito has had one or two high school students every few years who identify as transgender, said Grove, who noted that it’s rare at the middle school level “because most kids aren’t ready to be that public with their gender identity at that age.”

He said there may be more, but currently only two students have had formal interactions with the district. Typically, it’s a student transitioning to a new gender identity and living an active life as a transgender, he said.

Some students have been in the process of or moving toward undergoing sex change operations.

“We have had those situations on our campuses, and it really hasn’t ever been an issue other than making sure they aren’t getting bullied,” said Grove, who has worked in the district for 24 years.

Facility use has been a non-issue to date because the students “were comfortable going to whatever their biological gender facility was,” he said. “We haven’t had any big controversies where they’re asking for anything that we weren’t able to very easily accommodate without impacting others.”

To date the district has not had requests by transgender students to play sports on teams they gender-identify with, and is waiting to hear from the California Interscholastic Federation for guidance.

“It’s all going to be dictated by CIF rules and policy,” Grove said.

Current policy and law, as Grove understands it, is that a boy, for example, who identifies as a girl must be allowed to participate in girls’ sports. And vice versa.

“CIF is going to be very concerned about that,” he said. “In order for that student to be eligible to play on that team, they’re going to have very clear criteria.”

Grove said he would not be surprised to see some litigation around the athletics issue.

This bill focuses on K-12 grades only. But – more unintended consequences – what happens if it is applied to college sports, or even professional athletic competitions including the Olympics?

Grove said there have been isolated incidents across the country, including one case at the Olympics, associated with this conundrum. “It’s going to have to get sorted out,” he said.

Not a big deal

The law already prohibits discrimination based upon gender identity or sexual orientation. “All this [bill] did was make it very explicit,” Grove said.

Once the bill is approved by the governor, it becomes law at once. But how it is implemented will take time.

“What happens after that is the California Department of Education will come out with guidance for school districts about how you legally implement this in the school setting,” he said.

He expects unanticipated quandaries. “We’ll come up with how we think we’re going to do it, and then a scenario will come up that we hadn’t anticipated and we’ll adjust,” he said.

When new laws affecting education are passed, the CDE generally provides guidelines, and then San Dieguito reviews its current policies and regulations related to the new law to see if adjustments are needed.

“I doubt we will have to make anything formal in board policy, but in terms of our practices we will definitely come up with something specific in writing so our schools know how to handle the situation,” Grove said.

So far he said there has been no communication or resistance from parents or staff on AB 1266.

“I don’t anticipate it being that big a deal,” Grove said.

Perhaps one high school student I asked about this said it best. He was completely comfortable with the idea, but backed off a bit when carefully considering how to implement the specifics. His thoughtful comment after considering all aspects was this:

“The bill is important because it will help people recognize that transgender people deserve equal rights and full respect, just like everyone else. The details are sticky, and implementation will be a trial. But the overall point may be to change the way people think. And for that, it will be worth it.”

On that I hope everyone can wholeheartedly agree.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at

Related posts:

  1. OPINION: Del Mar schools rock
  2. O’Connell visits with swine flu manual for schools
  3. Data suspicious on list of best high schools
  4. Fairgrounds officials try to sell naming rights
  5. Human Rights Watch analyst coming to Grauer School, USD

Short URL:

Posted by Staff on Jul 31, 2013. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Education Matters. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Comments for “Transgender equality rights in schools”

  1. Karen Grube

    This bill is disgusting because it allows the total invasion of privacy of the 99.8% of students in our public schools, and tells them that their right to privacy has zero importance compared to the right of a few transgender kids to use any shower or bathroom they feel like using instead of the ones they SHOULD be using by birth. It’s simple; if you were born with guy parts, you use the boys facilities. If you were born with girl parts, you use the girls. Simple rule. No confusion.

    I would have screamed bloody murder when I was in school if some guy had walked into the bathroom or locker room – or, God forbid, the showers – when I was changing! My mom would have been in the principal’s face as well, once they called her because I was traumatized by this and couldn’t stop yelling. Trust me, she would not have stood for this nonsense for two seconds, and neither should ANY parent.

    Here’s the deal; get the unions to make this apply to the teachers and staff as well. They get to have someone of the opposite sex join them in the faculty showers, locker rooms, or bathrooms just because they can now. Just see how far THAT goes. If you won’t impose this on every single adult adult in schools, then what makes you think its acceptable to force it on the kids? HINT: It isn’t.

    I expect there will be an an immediate lawsuit and injunction to stop this reprehensible bill from going into effect if it does become law. Really, how sick is this? L.A. Unified needs to fix its policy as well. We really cannot be this stupid!

    Think before you vote next time people, and quit voting in elected officials who think garbage like this is acceptable! I’m putting my Assemblymember and State Senator on notice that I will be working to see them out of office in the next election because of this.

    • Erin Ryan

      Thank you, Karen! I could not believe this either.
      How awful.

      You said all that I was thinking perfectly.

      It is not about what gender you “feel” like you are. It matters what parts you have. I will not allow my children to be violated like this.

    • John G.

      I agree and for those of you who also agree, it is time for you to take back control of your California Legislators as well as the governor who approved this bill.

      Begin a recall Jerry Brown campaign in your area.

      Recall all those legislators who voted for this bill. The bill originated with homosexual legislators in San Francisco. They now control Sacramento law-makers.

      Only you as a California voter can make a difference.

  2. marsha sutton

    Update: It was announced today that the governor has signed this bill into law. — ms

Leave a Reply



Bottom Buttons 1

Bottom Buttons 2

Bottom Buttons 3

Bottom Buttons 4

Bottom Buttons 5

Bottom Buttons 6





  • Community input received on proposed health club and pool facility in Rancho Santa Fe
    About 100 Rancho Santa Fe residents showed up on Friday, Oct. 17, for a health club and pool community meeting, the last outreach before ballots were mailed on Monday, Oct. 20. On the ballots, members are being asked whether the Rancho Santa Fe Association should spend $350,000 on a professional planning phase for the potential new community amenity. RSF Ass […]
  • Czech violin duo to perform at Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe
    In cooperation with the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, the Czech School San Diego hosts a free classical violin concert by internationally recognized Czech violin player Jaroslav Svecený and his daughter, Julie Svecená, who are on a tour of the United States. The concert will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Village Church. The father-daughter duo will […]
  • Rancho Santa Fe weekly sports update
    Torrey Pines defeated Canyon Crest Academy 4-3 in a Palomar League opener for both teams on Oct. 9. Alayna Tomlinson and Farah Farjood each scored two goals to lead the Falcons. Samantha “Sammy” Cirino added one goal and one assist. […]