Politics & Government

Repeal of California transgender student rights bill fails

Efforts to overturn a law shielding transgender students stalled Monday, with advocates of the repeal failing to gather enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that the referendum on Assembly Bill 1266 finished about 17,000 signatures short of the 504,760 valid names needed to go before voters.

Proponents of the repeal submitted nearly 620,000 signatures and still have the opportunity to review the rejected names and challenge any they believe were improperly excluded.

The bill has become a flashpoint in the debate over supervising school facilities and the latest turn in the state’s culture wars. It permits transgender public school students to join athletic teams and access facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities instead of their sex.

Transgender individuals identify with a gender different from their sex at birth. The measure’s author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said one good thing to come from the “misguided” referendum attempt was that supporters were given another forum to educate people.

“It’s important that we begin to understand what transgender students are going through,” said Ammiano, D-San Francisco. “I wish it was just a matter of ignorance. The forces putting this referendum together included the people that make money off promoting hate and professional fearmongers, who took advantage of what other people didn’t understand.”

“Although it’s clear that California is moving in the direction of equality and respect, this does not mean the struggle is over … The people who belittle the rights of transgender students should know their efforts encourage the bullies. It is their intolerance that allows the violence to continue, and that violence affects every child, not just transgender students. They should be ashamed.”

Some school districts have already moved to accommodate their pupils. In December, Sacramento Unified School District approved a policy to extend new rights and protections to transgender students.

Meanwhile, repeal supporters said the fight isn’t over.

“Only after the secretary of state announces her count do we get a chance to look at the signatures that were thrown out and begin to challenge those results,” proponent Gina Gleason said.

They contend that their collection of 619,381 signatures demonstrated the degree of opposition to a measure that opens sensitive areas to the “opposite sex.”

The coalition called Privacy for All Students maintained the law makes other students uncomfortable and infringes on the will of public school parents. Karen England, a leader of the coalition, said in the months since the governor signed the bill they have watched the issue grow from another odd California proposal to a national push to sexually integrate bathrooms and locker rooms.

“AB 1266 has highlighted the contrasting approaches of those who believe that public policy should be shaped by an individual’s self-described sexual identity and those that believe that public policy should reflect sexual reality,” England said. “While we have compassion for those who are uncomfortable in traditional, sex-separate bathrooms, we also have compassion for those who see their privacy and safety jeopardized when boys and girls are forced to share bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.”

The campaign, led by Frank Schubert, who earlier helped run Yes on Proposition 8, has been marked by bursts of drama.

Last month, the measure moved to the full signature count after county election officials determined it did not have enough valid signatures to succeed by random sample.

That came after Bowen declined to count more than 5,000 signatures from Tulare and Mono counties that came in two days after the Nov. 10 deadline. A judge in Sacramento ruled the late submission was appropriate because Nov. 10 fell on a Sunday and Nov. 11 was Veterans Day.