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Transgender ballot battle looms?

Six weeks before California’s first-in-the-nation law takes effect to guarantee certain rights to transgender students, foes of the new statute say they have collected enough signatures for a statewide referendum next year to let voters decide.

The new law, signed by Gov. Brown in August after it was approved by the Legislature, takes effect Jan. 1. The measure, AB 1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, says transgender students have the right to participate in activities and organizations consistent with their transgender identity, including the use facilities such as restrooms and sports locker rooms. Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, was a co-author of the bill.

From the day Brown signed the bill, opposition to the looming law has been building.

This bill allows K-through-12 students to be able to use facilities, participate in organizations, including sports teams, from which they had been barred earlier. “All students should have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school,” said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup.

On Tuesday, following the deadline to submit signatures on referendum petitions to election officers, supporters of the proposal said they had gathered some 620,000 signatures, about 115,000 more than the 505,000 valid signatures of voters required to place the measure on the ballot.

“While we collected 115,000 more signatures than the minimum required, it will likely come down to the wire whether the referendum qualifies. We will be prepared to fight for every valid signature,” said Frank Schubert, the lead political strategist for the referendum campaign.

In a referendum, voters decide whether an existing law should be maintained or thrown out. If this referendum qualifies, voters would consider it in June 2014, the next statewide election.

With AB 1266, California becomes the first state to embrace rights for transgender students. In what was viewed as a political victory for the LGBT community, Brown signed the bill into law on Aug. 12, despite pressures from many parents, religious organizations, and the California Republican Party, among others.

This bill allows K-through-12 students to be able to use facilities, participate in organizations, including sports teams, from which they had been barred earlier.

“All students should have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school,” said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup.

The new law requires notification by the pupil or parent to the school that the student consistently identifies as a gender different than that on their school records, and wishes to participate in activities, organizations, or use of facilities that correspond with his or her gender identity. If the school has questions about the implementation of the new rules, they can contact the California Interscholastic Federation, which will assist the pupil in CIF’s gender-identity eligibility and appeal procedure.

The coalition, citing its own polling, contends that California voters do not support transgender rights and that AB 1266 “be soundly rejected by voters.”

Opponents of the law refer to it as the “Transgender Bathroom Bill” and contend that that it violates student privacy, according to the Privacy for All Students Coalition. The group has been working to collect the needed 505,000 signatures to qualify the referendum. The California Republican Party, meanwhile, voted earlier this month to officially support the referendum effort, and a number of religious groups also have come out in support.

Key players’ in the opposition to AB 1266 include political strategist Frank Schubert, who spearheaded the effort to approve Proposition 8, an anti-gay marriage measure that has since been overturned by the courts.

The coalition contends that the new law “is so poorly conceived and drafted that it may result in harming those it intends to help,” according to a FAQ distributed by the group. The coalition, citing its own polling, contends that California voters do not support transgender rights and that AB 1266 “be soundly rejected by voters.”

The coalition’s website includes “An Important Message from Pastor Jack Hibbs”, a video in which the cleric complains that “AB 1266 allows a k-12 grade student to self- determine their particular gender that they might feel like on any given day,” notes Hibbs, a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills. Backers of the new law say the statement is in accurate, because the law requires that the gender identity must be consistent.

Public contact information for Privacy for All Students led to unanswered emails and a complicated phone tree that did not mention the name of this organization but listed the parent group, Capitol Resource Institute. This “watchdog for family values” as it states on CRI’s website, is known for conservative “pro-family” views.

While one of the main worries of this bill seems to be the possible abuse of the policy by non-transgendered students, Judy Chiasson, Program Coordinator for Human Relations, Diversity and Equity at the Los Angeles Unified School District asserts noted in a Huffington Post article that “our experience stands in stark contrast to such fears: In all the years since the LAUSD implemented its policy, we have encountered nothing but positive results.”

 


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