California took a huge step toward transgender equality on Wednesday as lawmakers passed AB-1266, which requires K-12 schools to allow students to join sports teams, participate in sex-segregated activities, and use facilities consistent with their gender identity — regardless of the gender listed on students' records.
Several cities and counties in the state already have provisions in place that allow transgender children to participate in activities and use bathrooms that match their gender identity, but the state as a whole has finally adopted them. This is good news for students in areas that would not have ordinarily granted transgender students these rights.
"California law already prohibits discrimination in education, but transgender students are still unfairly excluded from physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities and facilities," explained Melissa Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU of California. "This exclusion negatively impacts students' ability to succeed in school and graduate with their class."
Certain classes like physical education are required to graduate, but are often also sex-segregated. At Manteca High School, a 16-year-old transgender boy named Ashton Lee was forced to take a P.E. class with girls, despite the fact that he identifies as male. Incidentally, Manteca High has 4 other openly transgender students.
"All I want to do is go to school and have the same opportunity to succeed as everyone else," said Lee, who testified at the Senate Committee hearing in June. "I just want to be treated the same as all the other boys ... but every day in [P.E.] leaves me feeling isolated and alone, making it extremely difficult to learn."
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wrote the bill, and in discussions about it often cited his experience as a gay teacher when fewer people accepted LGBT individuals in the classroom. He addressed concerns from the bill's opponents in an April San Francisco Examiner op-ed.
"Will transgender students make some other children uncomfortable?" he wrote. "Perhaps. I don't want to minimize that, but new experiences are often uncomfortable. That can't be an excuse for prejudice."
The San Francisco Unified School District — where Ammiano was a trustee, and the city he currently represents — was one of the districts already allowing the provisions in AB-1266 prior to the state voting the bill through. The Los Angeles Unified School District has also had similar rules in place since 2005.
AB-1266 had the support of over 40 LGBT advocacy organizations, including the ACLU of California, Equality California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Gender Spectrum, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center. The California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers, and the California State PTA also supported the legislation.