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California Enacts Landmark Legislation to Protect Transgender Students’ Rights

California is the first state to enshrine such protections in a statute and enforce them across school districts.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ferenc Cegledi

 
 
 
 

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation allowing transgender students in schools throughout the state to compete on sports teams and use school facilities based on their gender identity.

The law is the first of its kind in the nation. As  noted by the Associated Press, Massachusetts and Connecticut have statewide policies granting similar protections to transgender students, but California is the first to enshrine these protections in a statute and require them across all school districts.

“While many California schoolchildren are already protected by policies in some of our biggest school districts, other districts don’t seem to understand that transgender students should have equal access to all programs and facilities,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said Monday.

“All students should have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school,” added Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.

Republican opponents of the law argue that it could be unfairly exploited by non-transgender students who want to join an opposite-sex sports team in order to gain a competitive advantage in athletics. The “ Ladybugs” argument is common among opponents of similar transgender rights legislation, but supporters of the law have dismissed these claims as unfounded, citing that the Los Angeles Unified School District has had a similar policy in place for nearly a decade without incident.

Opponents also expressed concerns about student privacy.

“The vast majority of California students who do not identify as transgender have a reasonable privacy expectation that they will not be forced to undress or share bathroom, locker room, shower and sleeping facilities with members of the opposite biological sex,” said Matthew B. McReynolds, staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal nonprofit.

But Ammiano spokesman Carlos Alcala dismissed such criticism, noting that transgender students are equally invested in privacy at school. “They’re not interested in going into bathrooms and flaunting their physiology,” Alcala said.

Katie McDonough is an assistant editor for Salon, focusing on lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.