Californians jolted by the mental image of children sharing lavatories and locker rooms with opposite-sex classmates are campaigning to repeal the nation’s first law requiring schools to accommodate transgender pupils.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires all schools receiving state funds to let children choose between boys’ or girls’ bathrooms, for instance, and participate in sex-segregated sports teams based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex.
The drive to put a repeal on the ballot echoes a 2008 initiative, Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment passed by voters that banned same-sex unions. California resumed gay weddings in June following a Supreme Court ruling.
“It is just fundamentally wrong,” said Doug Boyd, a lawyer circulating petitions in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora. “It’s against the laws of God and nature.”
Boyd, 60, said he can’t stomach the idea of his 6- and 7-year-old daughters sharing school bathrooms, showers or locker rooms with a boy who sees himself as a girl.
A coalition led by the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group that promotes itself as a “watchdog for family values,” is seeking about 500,000 signatures to put a repeal on the 2014 ballot.
“This law just goes way too far,” said Karen England, executive director of the institute and a co-leader of the petition drive. “We need to protect the privacy of all students, not just some students.”
Transgender people are those who are born as one sex, yet behave and maintain an appearance consistent with the other sex. While Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington and Colorado have policies on transgender schoolchildren, only California has incorporated them into its laws, according to Equality California, the state’s largest gay-rights group.
The law’s supporters, which include the California State PTA and Governor Jerry Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat, underestimated the public backlash, Boyd said. He said he expects to easily obtain signatures to overturn the law in his neighborhood and at his 5,000-member church, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills.
“I have a 6-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old daughter in public schools and I’ll be darned if there are boys in their bathrooms,” Boyd said. He said he’d put the girls in another school before making them share bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams with opposite-sex peers.
Michelle Hunter, the Glendora Unified School District’s assistant superintendent for educational services, said officials at the 7,700-student system are awaiting policy guidance on the law from lobbyists for school boards in Sacramento. Hunter said she doesn’t anticipate any costs from the law, as Glendora already has some restrooms for individual students. Boyd said he’s unaware of any transgender students attending his children’s school in Glendora, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Hunter said she couldn’t disclose any information on the number of such students.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, about 0.5 percent of its 153,000 high-schoolers, or about 763, self-identified as transgender in a 2011 survey, said Judy Chiasson, program coordinator for human relations, diversity and equity.
The Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts already have policies allowing students to use facilities and join sports teams based on their gender identity. Los Angeles administrators have spent “negligible” time accommodating transgender students and there has been no expense to the district, Chiasson said.
In San Francisco, transgender students have used opposite-sex facilities for a decade without incident or cost to the district, said a spokeswoman, Gentle Blythe.
“Most students want privacy so we work out a way they can use the bathroom discreetly if that is what he or she prefers,” Blythe said by e-mail.
Neither school system tracks the number of students who have requested special accommodations, Chiasson and Blythe said.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Democrat who wrote the law, described it as an “important victory” for the rights of transgender people and said it would help children express their true identities. He said he’s not worried by the petition drive.
“The referendum is to be expected,” he said in a statement. “I think it’s marginal, but we’ll watch it.”
The repeal effort faces long odds: Of 76 referendums that qualified for circulation in California since 1912, only 19, or one-fourth, have been passed by voters, according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office.
The repeal advocates have until Nov. 10 to submit their petition. If they gather enough valid signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot, the law would be suspended pending the outcome of the vote, according to Bowen’s office.
England said the campaign against the law stresses the loss of privacy for non-transgender students sharing restrooms, locker rooms and sports teams with peers of the opposite sex, rather than moral objections.
Opponents also are concerned that California may set a precedent for other states, she said.
“It’s going to center around the lack of privacy, the lack of safeguards and the lack of local control,” England said of the campaign. “We see this as common sense.”