by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
A parent, as a general rule, is going to put the safety and security of their own child above all else. They want their child to have a life without the sorrow, without the embarrassment, without the pain that they themselves experience. Given a choice, they will most likely do all they can to make sure their child has a charmed life.
On the 12th of August, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1266 into law. AB1266, also known as the school success and opportunity act, ensures that students are permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and can use facilities consistent with their gender identity, regardless of what’s listed on the student’s school or other records.
This bill will allow transgender students to fully participate in their school’s curriculum. They’ll be able to participate in physical education, having an experience in line with others of their preferred gender. This will play a role in their ability to graduate – they need P.E. just like everyone else, after all – and will play a big part in their success in life in the future.
I happened to be in Sacramento, California when Governor Brown signed the bill into law. Heck, I was a short walk from his office, in another wing of the State Capitol getting ready to lobby state senators and assembly members on a trio of other state bills. State Senator Tom Ammiano entered the room where myself and a couple of dozen other transgender activists and allies were preparing for a long afternoon of talking to lawmakers and their legislative aides. We all cheered the news, and then went down to stand in front of Governor Brown’s office and cheer for the cameras.
Of course, not everyone is cheering this law. Many on the right, still licking their wounds over their loss at the Supreme Court over Proposition 8, have latched onto AB1266. The argument has been put forth that this law violates the privacy rights of all non-transgender students, as if there is not a lock on the bathroom stalls today. Still, they say that rather than help foster equality and help transgender students succeed, the bill will allow adolescent boys into girls’ restrooms and changing facilities, presumably to ogle the opposite sex.
Yes, the so-called “Bathroom Meme,” again.
This is, of course, ridiculous. This implies that a non-transgender boy is going to go through the hassles, the personal discomfort, and the fears of ostracism from family and friends that goes hand in hand with being transgender, just to eye pubescent girls? Does this sound at all logical? I’m sure that any budding sex offenders will find easier ways to get their kicks, than going through the difficult process of coming out as transgender.
Other arguments put forth from conservatives include the Traditional Values Coalition arguing that this law will “encourage youth as young as 5 years old to question their sex and gender,” and the Pacific Justice Institute stating that this could “victimize” a student “who is prevented from playing on a sports team because someone from the opposite gender took their place.” Still, most trot out bathrooms and locker rooms first and foremost, even trying to falsely claims that AB1266 makes school facilities somehow “co-ed.”
The more I hear arguments about why transgender people should not be allowed to use the facilities of their preferred genders, the more I feel that it’s not about protecting people, as it is about somehow punishing transgender people. That by forcing them to use facilities opposite their identity, and putting them into risky, dangerous situations, they’ll simply “fly straight” or otherwise “learn their lesson.”
A recent report from the Williams Institute, lead by Jody L. Herman, PhD, made things clear to me: 70 percent of transgender people surveyed reported facing harassment and other discrimination while trying to use a restroom in Washington, D.C. 68 percent faced verbal harassment. Nine percent faced physical assault. Eighteen percent were denied access.
Several conservative groups are now starting the process of overturning AB1266 at the ballot box. They now have a little less than 90 days to gather a bit more than 500,000 signatures in order to put it before the people of California. Meanwhile, the Pacific Justice Institute is already gearing up to back legal challenges.
As I said, parents want to make sure their kids are safe. What the opponents of AB1266 are doing is trying to tell all parents in California that AB1266 is directly threatening the wellbeing of their children.
Those of us who are trans, and those who are our allies, need to speak to that. You don’t need to convince the conservatives from the Traditional Values Coalition or Pacific Justice Institute: that is a waste of air. We need to talk to all those other parents. We need to show them that AB1266 does nothing to harm their children and provides them good resources for them and their kids. We also need to show them that AB1266 provides for the safety and success of those students who are transgender – because it does.
This law is the first of its kind, but it is not the first time a school district has issued similar rules. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves over 670,000 students, already has a similar policy in place. No, none of the fears espoused by the aforementioned conservative groups has come to pass in that district.
Parents just want what’s best for their children. We need to help all parents see that AB1266 doesn’t hurt their kids and it helps other kids. We need to foster success and safety for all.