California Lets Grade-Schoolers Decide Gender Identity

In five years as the principal and only teacher in central California’s tiny Blake School District, Dawn Carver hasn’t had a student born as a boy who identified as a girl, or vice versa, she said.

If that happens, starting Jan. 1, Carver and other Golden State school administrators will have to assign the pupil to bathrooms and sports teams based on his or her gender identity, not biological sex. Governor Jerry Brown yesterday signed a bill making California the first in the U.S. to create a law on transgender students’ rights from elementary school on.

Carver, whose main educational facility is a one-room schoolhouse in Woody, a ranching town about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, said she’d have no problem accommodating a boy who identifies as a girl or vice versa.

“We have private bathrooms,” she said by telephone. “We have eight students. We all play on the same sports teams. It would not be an issue.”

In Los Angeles, more than 670,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school district have been able to choose restrooms and teams based on gender identity since 2005, said Judy Chiasson, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s program coordinator for human relations, diversity and equity.

About 0.5 percent of the city’s 153,000 high-schoolers, or about 763, self-identified as transgender in the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chiasson said by telephone.

Few Ask

Far fewer students have asked for opposite-gender accommodations under the district policy, Chiasson said. She said she’s unaware of parental complaints about children sharing facilities with transgender students, although principals can deal with those without informing district administrators.

“We’re accommodating our students,” Chiasson said. “They’re now raising their hands to say, ‘Yes, I’m here,’ instead of hiding.”

Transgender children are those who are born as one sex, yet behave and maintain an appearance consistent with the other sex. The expansion of California’s nondiscrimination laws to include transgender minors applies to all 6.2 million in the state’s public schools, the nation’s largest enrollment.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington and Colorado have set policies on such students without new laws, according to Equality California, the state’s largest gay-rights group.

‘Important Victory’

“The governor’s signature represents an important victory, not just for my bill, but for a whole movement for the rights of transgender people,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who wrote the measure, 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.”

The bill makes no provision for parents who object to having their children share lavatories or locker rooms with students who are the opposite sex biologically. Schools may make accommodations in individual cases, Carlos Alcala, a spokesman for Ammiano, said by telephone.

Benjamin Lopez, legislative advocate for the Traditional Values Coalition, which opposed the bill, predicted those parents will go to court.

“Lawsuits will abound over the privacy rights of students who do not wish to share private quarters with people who act, dress or are in the process of changing to the opposite gender,” Lopez said by telephone. “The ramifications of this bill are unknown. We have now devolved into the realm of the unknown, the unthinkable and the absurd.”

PTA Support

The California State PTA supported the bill because the parent-teacher group is committed to fighting discrimination, said Kathy Moffat, its legislative director.

“What will happen down the line, we’re not sure,” Moffat said by telephone.

The bill’s mandates apply to all schools that receive state funds or with students who receive state aid. In 2011, Brown signed a measure making California the first in the U.S. to require schools to highlight the history and achievements of lesbians and homosexuals in civic lessons.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Nash in Los Angeles at jnash24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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