California implements the first comprehensive transgender law for K-12 students

Anne Christensen

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California became the first state to pass legislation allowing transgender K-12 students to choose restroom facilities and participate in physical education or sports based on their self-defined gender identity.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1266, the “School Success and Opportunity Act” into law on Aug. 12. Students may now participate in formerly gender-segregated school activities in a way that respects an individual’s gender identity, while still earning class credit.

“AB1266 is important as it recognizes the specific needs of the pre-adolescent and adolescent transgender population, one of the most at-risk communities in the area of public education,” said Pride Center Mentor Cadence Valentine, 33, a senior psychology major and queer studies minor at CSUN.

The bill was introduced in February by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) to target “sex-segregated school programs and activities.” These include physical education classes and sports, which often require students to separate according to their biological sex as opposed to their self-described gender identity.

According to the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, a transgender person is someone “who doesn’t fit within society’s standards of how a woman or a man is supposed to look or act.”

Transgender people do not necessarily wish to medically or hormonally change their physical appearances, although some do. Being transgender also does not indicate sexual preference.

Although California is one among 13 states with comprehensive anti-discrimination policies for transgender students in public schools, it’s the first state to pass an all-inclusive law.

This is primarily because unintended discrimination can arise in situations when transgender students are denied access to activities because there are no appropriate changing rooms or bathroom facilities to fit their needs. Even in-class activities such as group work can discriminate against transgender students, if gender is used to segregate such groups.

“Sometimes it is being called names or being physically attacked, sometimes it’s a teacher splitting up the class by sex for a class activity, or getting a dirty look when walking into a restroom or many other such smaller things that build up to a boiling point,” Valentine said.

At CSUN, no conduct issues have been filed based on a student’s gender identity in connection with the four single-use bathroom stalls on campus, according to Samuel Lingrosso, student conduct coordinator.

However, the Los Angeles Unified School District, a serious economic player in policy-making with a yearly budget of almost $7 billion, is poised to set an example for other states.

“LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country with over 600,000 students and over 60,000 employees, so it should prove to be an excellent case study to show what the law does and how it affects our young people,” Valentine said.

According to the Transgender Law Center, the new bill requires public schools to “respect a  transgender student’s identity” in any kind of programs, activities as well as facilities. Sarina Loeb, coordinator for the Pride Center and LGBTQ Initiatives, said that members of the transgender community often fall victim to a misinformed public.

“I have students tell me they get looks, ‘he-she or it’ comments in the bathrooms, or they might overhear others talk,” Loeb said. “With any discrimination, whether it’s race or immigration, that stuff sticks with you.”