Feature image via www.glaad.org
Back in July, we talked about California Assembly Bill 1266, which was facing some opposition as it moved through the California State Senate and Assembly. The bill states that within the California School System,
A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and 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.
Despite critics who were shocked that trans* students might get to use the same locker rooms as their cisgender peers, the bill was recently brought to the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown and in a major victory for transgender rights, he signed AB 1266 into law today. This is the first law in the country to require public schools to respect the gender identities of its students and treat them equally when it comes to athletics, activities and facilities including bathrooms and locker rooms. This means that every student who dreamed of playing sports or being in a school club that confirms their true gender has that chance. Every trans* student who wanted to use the bathroom in peace or get changed in the correct locker room is going to be able to. Students who need to pass Physical Education classes in order to graduate won’t be discriminated against. In short, this bill mandates that trans* students should finally get the support from their schools that cis students have been getting all along.
While other states like Massachusetts and Colorado have statewide policies with similar goals, this is the first actual law to address the problem. The bill was co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara and Assembly Member Toni Atkins and had the backing of many LGBTQ and human rights groups including the ACLU, The Transgender Law Center, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Equality California. Transgender students, such as Calen Valencia, an 18-year-old from Tulare, are lauding the move by Governor Brown and the California Assembly.
I’m so excited that California is making sure transgender students have a fair chance to graduate and succeed. I should have graduated this year, but my school refused to give me the same opportunity to succeed as other boys. Now other transgender youth won’t have to choose between being themselves and graduating high school.
Laws like this are desperately needed because even though many states already have laws against discrimination within public schools, they don’t necessarily include gender identity or presentation, and transgender youth have continued to face an uphill battle to get a fair chance to succeed. Many trans* students already have a difficult time gaining acceptance from their families, with one in five being homeless at some point during their youth. School should be a place where they know they will be safe and supported. This, however, is often not the case. 78% of transgender students in grades K-12 have reported harassment, 35% physical assault and 12% have reported sexual violence in school, with a shocking 15% having to leave school due to discrimination they faced for being trans*.
Getting your sex changed on official documents is a long and expensive process in many states, and in others it’s not even possible. So it’s very important that schools will be focusing on the gender identity of students, who are often too young to have had the chance to change their documents and fix the inaccurate “F” or “M” it says on their records. With the passing of this bill, the future is looking better for transgender students. It remains to be seen how schools will respond to the policy and how consistently it will be enforced, but it’s undoubtedly a step forward. This law and the similar policies in other states are hopefully just the first in a trend of nationwide protections for trans* youth both in public schools and in other areas of society.