Transgender equality rights in schools

Marsha Sutton
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.

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