Critique and illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
In August, Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s Assembly Bill 1266 for Transgender Student Rights. This bill, now law, allows transgender youth to use whatever bathroom and participate on whichever sports team they believe matches their gender identity (among other provisions).
Specifically, it gives students in public k-12 schools the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their self-perception of their true gender, regardless of their biological sex. The law will prevent California’s nearly 1,000 school districts from segregating transgender students from their peers by placing them in programs that go against their identity.
Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center has stated, “Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self, they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates.”
Of course, the law is common sense.
But on November 12, the “news” publication The Daily Caller published an article by education editor Eric Owens indicating that the law actually makes bathrooms a free-for-all, and has taken it upon himself to try and repeal the law through a referendum. In order to garner support, he has cited “privacy concerns.” He needed to collect 505,000 signatures required by November 6 (which he has claimed that he has more than enough, which has not yet been verified), the law will freeze on January 1, when it’s scheduled to take effect, and its fate will be voted on by the general public in the 2014 midterm elections.
But Owen’s problem with the law isn’t about privacy concerns. It is about his deep-seated bigotry and fear. In his own words: “California voters would then decide if students with penises should use bathrooms and locker designated for males and students with vaginas should use restrooms designated for females, or if those places should be free-for-alls based on how students say they feel.”
The idea that opening up bathrooms to people’s gender identity instead of biological gender is not going to be some slippery slope to orgies, sexual assault in the bathrooms and the like. In other areas, school districts have already implemented similar plans and have seen no misconduct. The only reported incident was fabricated by an anti-LBGT group.
This isn’t the first time that Owens has reared his ugly head in matters involving transgender rights. In a September article, he took the time to make fun of bullied transgender homecoming queen Cassidy Lynn Campbell. Earlier, he made fun of transgender student Kasey Caron who was disqualified for homecoming king “because [Caron] apparently still has a vagina.”
Besides the fact that Owens is a disgusting individual who seems obsessed with the genitalia of others, he is also leading a misinformation campaign, attempting to character assassinate the bill and all politicians who support it.
What is true is that gender identity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, not some right-wing nut job, is determined by the age of four. It is constant, and not likely to switch according to some law as Owen has suggested.
Unfortunately, Owen is not alone in opposing this bill. Privacy For All Students has been created around the referendum campaign. It is being managed by Frank Schubert, the same bigot who opposed equal rights before in the campaign for Prop 8. “There is no protection for students that object to sharing bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms with students of the opposite sex. Such students could be subject to discrimination claims and punishment under anti-bullying laws. Male and female students should be able to get an education and develop healthy heterosexual relationships in a stable environment,” a statement from Privacy For All Students says.
What I say to such a bigoted statement is this: you are worried about the comfort level of a few students while this law is worrying about the safety of others. Your cisgendered, straight privilege is showing. If male and female students are going to be derailed of developing “healthy heterosexual relationships,” there is a good chance they weren’t heterosexual in the first place. The real danger is in the threats and discrimination against transgender people when they attempt to do the most basic of things – urinate.
Imagine for a moment, you have to take a leak. Your options are, risk going in the female bathroom and having the girls in the loo possibly freaking out and screaming because you look like you don’t belong there (I have experienced this first hand – as I did not feminize in the face until I was well into my teens); or go in the male bathroom and possibly be harassed or assaulted. In some cases, transgendered teens try not to go to the bathroom at all.
The law aims to give transgender students this one, mundane, but powerful thing to not have to fear and dread. It also may help to foster acceptance of transgender students by their peers, by demystifying transgenderism at a younger age, rather than allowing people like Owen and Schubert to get into adulthood with no concept of or empathy for the daily struggles of transgender people.
As Schubert openly admits, he has no idea what all this transgender business even is! “We introduce this concept called gender identity and I don’t have any idea what that is. You can change your appearance, you can change your presentation. You cannot change your gender.”
California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, author of the bill, said that there needed to be a consistent policy across all of California’s school districts, and pointed out that the Los Angeles Unified School District provided the example. “The law merely spells out that non-discrimination is the law of California…Experts told legislators repeatedly that the policy [in Los Angeles] doesn’t cause problems. It solves problems.”
Davis isn’t afraid of the referendum. He says, “We are confident that this fair-minded state will support all students, including [those who are] transgender…When Californians are able to meet and become familiar with transgender people, even if only on television or online, they will come to understand the truth – that everyone should be treated with fairness and respect. Every parent wants to see their child be supported and have a fair chance to succeed in school. It’s no different for parents of transgender students.”
Geoff Kors, a political strategist for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says that the fight itself will provide a lot of the harm. “Just [the fight against the law] is harmful to transgender students who are trying to go to school and fit in with their classmates. They’re hearing these horrific messages about who they are.”
But for one high school junior, it has already had the opposite effect. Ashton Lee, a transgender student says the law has increased awareness and helped inspire changes in his school already – including his use of the boys’ bathroom. “It just feels better than having to be the kid that uses the staff bathroom or being the boy in the girls bathroom or not being about to use it at all. It just helps get me to being normal at my school.”
Of course, if the referendum does pass, it can always be overturned by the Supreme Court, just like Prop 8 and DOMA.