California Gets Closer to Transgender Equity

3418426185_587994bddbTransgender students in California could soon enjoy more rights and protections. A bill was approved Thursday in the California Assembly that would allow transgender students to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities. This means that athletic teams that are all girls or all boys will be open to students who identify with either gender.

The bill also stipulates that public schools allow restrooms and locker rooms to be open to any student who identifies with that gender, regardless of what gender is listed on school records. The bill will now go to the state Senate, where it is expected to garner a lot of support.

State laws already prevent public schools from discriminating against students based on gender identity, but this new bill, spearheaded by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from San Francisco, will go further in giving transgender Californians the security they need in school and ensure uniformity in school districts across the state.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, is glad that further action is being taken on these overlooked issues that affect trans students. He said:

We have heard from scores of parents concerned that their children are at risk for dropping out of school merely because they are transgender. It breaks my heart to see our youth excluded from activities at school simply because of who they are. This bill is urgently needed to ensure that every student has a fair chance to fully participate and graduate.

The California Assembly passed this bill on the heels of another recent bill that would make it much easier for trans people to change the name and gender on their birth certificate and other documents without having to get a court order.

The issue of transgender rights has picked up speed in recent years, as several states—including Washington, Colorado and Massachusetts—have created policies or guidelines that allow students to participate in activities that correspond with their expressed gender. Similarly, the NCAA has adopted bylines to protect trans athletes who were born male but then later identified as female and wanted to play women’s sports.

In addition to school sports and programs, trans students can also face obstacles when using school restrooms and locker rooms—places that can turn into sites of terror and bullying. The California Assembly’s decision to push forward a bill that would protect trans students’ equal access to these school facilities is a move being mirrored on college campuses as well: More than 150 universities, from UCLA to New York University, now have gender-neutral restrooms, and even more schools are in the process of implementing policies on restroom access.

Even in Arizona, where the state legislature recently tried to introduce laws hostile to trans people and their use of bathrooms, the progressive University of Arizona implemented a bathroom policy that grants all students the right to use facilities that correspond with their expressed gender.

These nationwide pushes in schools and universities to bolster the rights of trans students demonstrate the growing zeitgeist of inclusion surrounding trans people, and a broadening of the public consciousness on gender identity.

Opponents of the California bill said that, since puberty can be a confusing time, other students may feel uncomfortable with students who seem to be of a different gender using restrooms and locker rooms. But Assemblyman Ammiano, who is gay, argued:

Because someone is uncomfortable is not a reason to discriminate. I can walk into many of your districts and many of your constituents would be uncomfortable with me.

Photo courtesy of onesquareblock via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine