SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the School Success and Opportunity Act into law, a landmark bill to ensure transgender youth have equal opportunities to fully participate and succeed in schools programs across the state.The law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2014, is the first of its kind in the country, and requires that California public schools respect students’ gender identity and makes sure that students can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.
While existing state law already prohibits California schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity, the spells that out in more detail, said Carlos Alcala, a spokesman for the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco.
Co-authored by State Sens. Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Toni Atkins, the bill was backed by a coalition of leading organizations, including Transgender Law Center, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Gender Spectrum, Equality California, ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, statewide teacher and parent organizations, and dozens of other organizations.
Supporters say the law will help reduce bullying against transgender students.
It comes as the families of transgender students have been waging local battles with school districts around the country over what restrooms and locker rooms their children can use.
Detractors said allowing students of one gender to use facilities intended for the other could invade the other students’ privacy.
Such fears are overblown, said Alcala. In general, he said, transgender students are trying to blend in and are not trying to call attention to themselves.
“They’re not interested in going into bathrooms and flaunting their physiology,” Alcala said.
He also noted that the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, has had such a policy for nearly a decade and reported no problems. San Francisco schools also have such policies, and numerous other districts signed on in support of the legislation.
“Clearly, there are some parents who are not going to like it,” Alcala said. “We are hopeful school districts will work with the m so no students are put in an uncomfortable position.”
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network said two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, have statewide policies granting the same protections, but California is the first to put them into statute and require them in all school districts.
“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,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center, in a statement.