Yet another ballot measure over an obscure state statute? It’s possible, if opponents of a recently enacted law aimed at protecting transgender students can qualify a referendum for the November 2014 ballot.
Opponents of the law, including some of the same consultants and religious organizations that brought you Proposition 8 – the ban on same-sex marriage later struck down by federal courts – say they’ve submitted 620,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office on behalf of the proposed referendum. If it makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, the measure would overturn Assembly Bill 1266, legislation by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco that was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
There’s still a chance that the number of valid signatures will fall short of the 505,000 needed to qualify the referendum. If so, it would spare voters from getting into the weeds on a law that hasn’t even been implemented yet and probably will have little or no negative impact on anyone.
AB 1266 makes California the first state in the nation to specify the rights of transgender K-12 students, ensuring that students have access to services that match their gender orientation. That means transgender students could choose between playing on boys or girls sports teams and could use the restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identification.
Some religious groups object, claiming these rights infringe on the rights of other boys and girls who might feel uncomfortable with transgender students playing on their team, or sharing a bathroom or locker room.
To date, however, opponents have failed to demonstrate that the law would cause widespread harm. Several school districts have adopted policies nearly identical to the state law, with no serious problems resulting. Moreover, opponents have refused to recognize that, without protections, transgender students can face harassment and lack of access to school programs.
In June, the Senate Education Committee heard from one such transgender student. Ashton Lee, a 16-year-old transgender boy from Manteca, said he wanted to play high school football, but that his school forced him to take PE in a class of all girls.
Often worse are the situations that transgender and gender-neutral students face when forced to use boy’s bathrooms and locker rooms, where they can face heckling and worse. The potential for violence was disturbingly illustrated by the recent attack on Luke Fleischman, an 18-year-old from Oakland. Fleischman, who identifies himself as gender neutral, suffered second- and third-degree burns after his skirt was set on fire while he was sleeping on a bus.
Let’s hope the signatures submitted fall short of the 505,000 needed. At best, this proposed referendum is another abuse of direct democracy, a cynical effort to drive greater numbers of religious conservatives to the polls next November.
At its worst, it is an attempt to stir up bigotry against Californians who have a different sexual and gender orientation from what some would call “traditional.”