California’s Brown to Decide on Sexual Identity in School

California would have the first state law permitting elementary and high school students to use bathrooms and join sports teams based on their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, under a bill going before Governor Jerry Brown.

California, which has the nation’s largest public-school enrollment at 6.2 million, would expand nondiscrimination laws to children born as boys who relate as girls, and those born as girls who relate as boys. The measure passed the state Assembly, 46-25, on May 9, and the Senate, 21-9, on July 3.

The Golden State would be the first to address the issue through statewide legislation. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington and Colorado have adopted policies to protect transgendered pupils without passing laws, according to Equality California, the state’s largest gay-rights group.

The California law is aimed at ending exclusion that “negatively impacts students’ ability to succeed in school and graduate with their class,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Equality California, in a statement. “For example, physical education classes help students develop healthy fitness habits and teach values like teamwork and fair competition -- and P.E. credits are required, so students cannot graduate without them.”

In 2011, Brown signed a bill making California the first state to require schools to highlight the history and achievements of gay individuals in civic lessons.

Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat who was elected with support from Equality California, hasn’t indicated whether he will sign the transgender bill. Brown rarely reveals his position on legislation before signing or vetoing, said a spokesman, Evan Westrup.

‘Politically Correct’

The California Catholic Conference, which advocates for the church and its 11 million members in the state on matters of public policy, calls the bill “a politically correct, one-size-fits-all” plan on its website.

“Accommodating an individual student who may be the object of discrimination is more appropriate than highlighting his or her struggles with a public mandate,” according to the statement on the conference website. “Solidarity with each other lifts us all.”

Other opponents are the Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition, according to a legislative analysis, while supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the California State PTA and the public-school districts in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If Brown vetoes the bill, school districts would be faced with “countless” lawsuits alleging discrimination against transgendered students, diverting money from classrooms, Melgar said.

Equal Access

Federal law also guarantees transgendered students access to programs and facilities that fit their gender identity, Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The California bill “will make it clear that under California law, transgender students must be provided equal access to all school programs on the same basis as all other students,” Turner said.

The bill is in the process of being sent to the governor. Once it reaches Brown’s desk, he will have 12 days to sign or veto it, Westrup said.

(Corrects affiliation of Ilona Turner in first paragraph under Equal Access subheadline in a story published Aug. 2.)
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