Erika D. Smith

Transgender kids have a lot to be thankful for – but mostly the California Legislature

Joan Harris and her son Alex of Auburn, supporters of equal rights, attend the board meeting of the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools on Monday evening.
Joan Harris and her son Alex of Auburn, supporters of equal rights, attend the board meeting of the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools on Monday evening.

It’s tough to empathize with adults who have no empathy for transgender kids, but one father’s anger – seemingly borne of fear – did cut through the din of Monday night’s Rocklin school board meeting.


He wanted to know why a kindergarten teacher at Rocklin Academy Gateway School had allowed a student to share “I Am Jazz,” a book about a transgender child, with her classmates. And he wanted to know why, as a parent, he had no say in it – especially because his daughter has made comments about “changing from a girl to a boy.”

“I want to be the one who teaches my kid about these controversial issues,” he spat, “not the school!”

But this isn’t North Carolina, where transgender people were banned from using bathrooms that matched their gender identity. Nor is this one of the many red states, where schools regularly turn a blind eye to the bullying of gender nonconforming students.

This is California, and thanks to a proactive Legislature, things don’t work that way here.

By law, gender identity is protected like a person’s race or ethnicity. The Fair Education Act requires textbooks in public schools to include contributions from the transgender community. The School Success and Opportunity Act ensures students can play on sports teams, and use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. It prevents teachers from outing trans kids, and requires schools to use the name and pronoun that matches the student’s gender identity.

And under California Education Code, parents can’t opt their children out of lessons on gender or sexual orientation.

It was this last point that most ran afoul of what Rocklin parents had assumed were their rights. They demanded, among other unreasonable things, the ability to shield their kids from discussions on gender identity and to move to their kids to classrooms without transgender students.

The Rocklin board wisely didn’t go for that. Its members rejected the “parental rights” proposal, introduced by professional agitator Karen England and her conservative Christian group, the Capitol Resource Institute of Sacramento.

Instead, the board unanimously voted to uphold policies designed to protect the rights and privacy of transgender students. That includes keeping “I Am Jazz” on the reading list. Jazz Jennings, the real-life transgender girl who wrote the book, chimed in with a letter to the board. “I know I speak on behalf of transgender kids everywhere when I say that your leadership does not go unnoticed.”

But that doesn’t mean the matter is over. State law is state law, but people are people.

At least 14 families have withdrawn their kids from Rocklin schools and more are expected to do so soon. Some are motivated by bigotry, like the man wearing a “Trust Jesus” hoodie who called a transwoman a “homo” at Monday’s meeting. But there’s also ignorance.

Some worried that teachers were “indoctrinating” their kids with unscientific views of gender identity, and that their kids could become transgender – as if it were contagious – and be vulnerable to bullying and depression. Still others wrongly equated gender identity with sex. “We all have friends who are gay and lesbian,” one woman said. “But that’s not sexual. What we’re talking about is sexual, with 4- and 5-year-olds.”

If anything, the meeting exposed a lot of fear in conservative Rocklin. It’s a good thing kids are usually calmer.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith