Here's something that California doesn't need: a replay of
As with Proposition 8, which altered the California constitution to ban same-sex marriages, this proposal is based on fear of and intolerance toward people whose sexuality falls outside of traditionally accepted norms. Once again, voters will be told that a ballot measure will protect children and families and sexual normalcy. But protect them from whom? The supposed threat in this case comes from some of the state's most vulnerable individuals — youngsters who were born "male" or "female" but who feel that those descriptions are wrong or incomplete.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, would allow transgender students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms and to participate on athletic teams that correspond to the gender with which they identify. Just as the American public understood little about homosexuality in years past, most people know little about transgender identity today. It's understandable, perhaps, that some react with raised eyebrows at the thought of a fourth-grader with male genitalia using the girls' bathroom, or a teenager with female physical sexual characteristics playing on the boys' volleyball team and using the boys' locker room. It's not at all surprising that some parents wonder — and worry — about their children seeing the naked bodies of students of a different gender.
The issue isn't simple. But extending the rights of transgender students is neither as groundbreaking nor as certain to cause trouble as opponents claim.
To start with, the
What's more, the
Opponents of the law will try to convince voters otherwise. Expect arguments like these: Boys will get into college by faking their way onto the girls' teams and unfairly using their added height and musculature to become athletic stars. Worse, they'll flash the girls in the locker room. And think of the trouble that would arise if a teenager who is physically female showers with a bunch of 6-foot-tall guys.
This is modern myth-making, similar to the old canard that gay men don't form stable, long-lasting relationships. But public understanding of homosexuality has grown; 17 states recognize same-sex marriage, and several more are on the verge of doing so. And now voters in California are being asked to acknowledge that just as gay marriage does not in any way harm traditional heterosexual marriage, transgender children and teenagers represent no threat to schools or to other students.
Quite the contrary. It is extremely difficult for many transgender youngsters to admit to themselves that they're uncomfortable with their physical gender, much less admit it to fellow students.