“’Forcing boys and girls to share the same bathroom, locker room and shower facility is in itself bullying,’ said Tim LeFever of Privacy for All Students, a group leading the repeal effort [of California’s AB 1266].” Alejandro Lazo
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—School districts in California are grappling with a newly enacted, first-of-its-kind law that spells out rights for those students who don’t identify as being the gender of their birth.
California’s AB 1266, the first such statewide legislation in the U.S., grants students who identify themselves as transgender the right to choose the sports teams and extracurricular activities—as well as the bathrooms and locker rooms—that correspond to their gender identities. Backers of the measure say transgender children have been subject to bullying in such settings and have thus taken to avoiding using the restroom or participating in athletics.
There are no firm estimates of how many such students might attend California schools, and no guidelines for determining if a youngster should be considered transgender.
Signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last summer and going into effect this month, AB 1266 now faces a repeal effort by opponents, who argue that students of different biological sexes should remain separated.
“Forcing boys and girls to share the same bathroom, locker room and shower facility is in itself bullying,” said Tim LeFever of Privacy for All Students, a group leading the repeal effort. By passing the law, Mr. LeFever said, legislators showed a “real lack of sensitivity for other individuals.”
Repeal advocates believe they have compiled enough signatures to qualify a measure for the statewide ballot in November. Those signatures must be verified by officials by Feb. 24. Should the measure qualify, the policy would be put on hold until after the vote.
Some districts are moving to comply with the new law. Sacramento Unified School District enacted a policy regarding transgender students before the holidays. Lawrence Shweky, coordinator for the integrated support services department, said that since the start of the year, several transgender students have begun using bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their genders. No issues had arisen so far, he said.
The district is working on its process for determining if a student is transgender. One option might require a kind of formal evaluation. “The way the law is written, it is kind of left up to school district,” Mr. Shweky said.
The California School Board Association has advised its members that certain state and federal laws extend rights to transgender students regardless of the fate of AB 1266. The association also noted that new bylaws issued by the governing body for California high-school sports allow students to participate on the sports teams that match their gender identities.
Other states make similar accommodations. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education enacted policies in 2012 allowing transgender students the right to adopt the pronouns and use facilities of the sex they identify with.
Kane Atticus Tajnai, a 17-year-old senior at Gunderson High School in San Jose, changed his identity to male from female this year. The new policy “did help in giving me the confidence to say, ‘I can come out,’ ” he said.
Public conversation on the topic remains, at times, sensitive. When Sacramento Unified passed its policy in December, Christina Pritchett, a school-board member, raised questions she said she had received from parents. Among them: How would students showering together be protected from embarrassment if a transgender student is among them?
Nichole Wofford, who manages the district’s support-services center for gay and transgender students, said such students in Sacramento are already accommodated in several ways. The problem, she said, is that there has been no overarching policy.