California students will soon be able to use the bathrooms and join the teams that best match their gender identity, as Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill enshrining rights for transgender youth.
The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, advanced from both houses of the Legislature on largely party-line votes. Supporters said the bill protects young people who often endure intolerance and bullying as they travel a twisting road toward self-awareness.
Although California law already shields transgender students from discrimination, Ammiano argued his bill would guarantee uniform treatment across the state's hundreds of school districts. It clarifies that individual districts cannot bar students from a single-sex setting like a men's basketball team or a women's locker room.
"The governor's signature represents an important victory, not just for my bill, but for a whole movement for the rights of transgender people," Ammiano said in a statement. "We had children testify in the Assembly and Senate that this law will mean they no longer must hide who they are, nor be treated as someone other than who they are."
Brown's decision to sign the bill on Monday, ahead of a deadline to act by midnight on Tuesday, dissolved the suspense surrounding the bill's fate. It had been unclear how the governor would react to a bill that drew strenuous objections from Republican lawmakers.
With his signature, Brown repudiated concerns that the bill would undermine parental choice, put schoolchildren into uncomfortable situations and give an opening to mischievous students eager to catch a glimpse inside the other locker room. Critics also questioned how the bill would affect the integrity of school athletic records.
"I am very disappointed in Governor Brown's decision," Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, said in a statement. "Not only did his choice to sign this bill ignore the voices of many California citizens, it also greatly compromised the privacy and rights of students throughout California."
In addition to enjoying the backing of advocacy groups like Equality California and the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill also received support from the state's two major teachers unions, the San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts both of which had already instituted similar policies and the California State PTA.
Eight school years have passed since Los Angeles Unified School District put its version in place. It has yielded no negative consequences so far, according to Edgar Zazueta, director of government relations for L.A. Unified.
"We haven't, at least in our district, seen any instances where kids are going somehow try and take advantage of the system," Zazueta said. "If anything, I think this has given us the opportunity for students to feel more comfortable in their specific school setting."
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Follow him on Twitter @CapitolAlert.