California state assemblymen approved a bill Wednesday requiring public K-12 schools to let transgender students choose which restrooms, locker rooms, and sports team they join based on their gender identity—regardless of their birth gender. Although 16 other states have already outlawed discrimination based on gender or gender expression, California is the first state to mandate such treatment specifically in schools.
The bill, which passed the state Senate 21-9, sparked an impassioned debate between those concerned with transgender students’ right to expression and those pointing out other students’ right to privacy. Supporters said the bill is needed to protect students from bullying and other abuse. Opponents said the state is going too far in permitting opposite-sex students in restrooms and locker rooms.
“It is not all about discrimination,” said Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen, warning that the privilege could be abused by youthful sex offenders. “Elementary and secondary students of California—our most impressionable, our most vulnerable—now may be subjected to some very difficult situations.”
“Think about the millions of California parents and students who at the least would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with what this bill would impose upon them,” Nielsen said.
The Pacific Justice Institute actively opposed the legislation, testifying against it in both houses. It’s president, Brad Dacus, pointed out that the bill only requires students to say they feel like the opposite gender to use opposite-gender bathrooms: “Students using bathrooms, locker rooms, or school showers should not have the anxiety and uncertainty and fear that any time someone from the opposite sex could come in and there would be no retribution for doing so.”
San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts currently require one year of counseling for transgender students to determine what actions are in a child’s best interest. But this bill requires no prior counseling and doesn’t require the student to live as the opposite gender before using locker rooms and bathrooms. Dacus said this harms children facing gender disorders: “To completely truncate the role of psychologists and counselors in this process, much less the rights of parents, is a travesty to the welfare, proper development, and possible healing of these young people.”
Dacus fears the legislation will harm girls specifically, while parents can do little to protect them: “No reasonable parent could ever be expected to approve of a boy changing clothes and showering at the same place, at the same time, as their daughter.” He thinks that if the governor signs the bill, many parents will file lawsuits.
Sens. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, each said that male athletes who are mediocre in competition against their own gender could game the system by competing against female athletes. Wright also worried that schools could eliminate football and other contact sports if they faced increased liability by letting girls play.
Nielsen and Knight voted against the bill, but Wright—along with eight members of both parties—did not vote. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who has not said whether he intends to sign the legislation.