California just cemented itself as one of friendliest places to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer communities by passing a statute into law that allows transgender students to be themselves.
AB1266 gives students in grades K - 12 the ability self-identify, as oppose to having the rest of society dictate what gender they are, which is usually based on their genitals or the gender they were assigned at birth. For many folks who are not trans or gender nonconforming (also known as cisgender or people who identify with the gender they were given at birth), it may be hard to understand why this is important.
For us, we will never know what it is like to be kicked out of a bathroom, not know which bathroom we are able to use, or to be harassed or assaulted because we were not in the "right" bathroom. For transgender folks, a simple, necessary task like using the bathroom is like going into an uncertain situation that may include bodily harm.
The same goes for sports. This part of the statute seems to be getting a bit more pushback from elected officials, but we're not surprised. It's the same old sexism we've heard time and time again on the division of women and men's teams. State Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) both shared concerns of mediocre male athletes trying to game the system by competing against female athletes. This is based on the sexist assumption that women are less athletic or competitive then their male counterparts.
Regardless of the fuss that is being made by a small minority on the passage of this law, people are quick to forget that similar laws have existed in other major school districts for decades without problems, including Los Angeles. While California is the first state to mandate this by statute, Connecticut and Massachusetts have similar policies in place, although not mandated for all schools.
Seventy-eight percent of trans folks who were "out" during grades K - 12 reported being harassed based on their gender identity, with around 35% of those incidents escalating into physical violence. It is negligence to ignore a reality that many young people are either facing or struggling to understand.
If we can do anything to normalize transgender folks' existence in our community, it is by giving them a place to pee and offering them a spot on our team as they are, as they see themselves, and eventually as we will come to see them. California's AB1266 should be seen as model legislation to be replicated across the country. It's critical to set a good example for our children as to how to interact with people who may be different from us by creating policy that is reflective of our acceptance.
Despite this huge step forward, there's still more work to do, though. Being able to use the restroom and play a sport without putting your private parts on trial are really important, but let's not forget that LGBTQ folks can still get fired for being queer or trans. Although California has a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which protects LGBT folks from this discrimination, it still needs to pass on a federal level.