Ever since California's law to protect the rights of transgender students went into effect two years ago, opponents have tried to whip up fear and confusion about what they see as the scary new bathroom rules, under which they say that any child of any gender may wander into any old restroom whenever they want. Voters, however, aren't buying it. For the second time, backers of a ballot initiative to overturn the law have failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. It's time they gave up the fight.
Lawmakers in 2013 passed the School Success and Opportunity Act, which was billed as a groundbreaking change for transgender rights, but really just clarified existing anti-discrimination policies in the state education code that were not always understood or followed. The law made it clear that transgender students may use the bathrooms and locker rooms — and can participate on the sports teams — that correspond to the gender with which they identify. The law's goal was to accommodate children born male or female, but who identify differently. It also addressed delicate issues transgender students confront daily, and eliminated the confusion and discomfort that might arise if, say, a teen who identifies and dresses as a girl was forced to use the boys' bathroom.
Opponents have argued that the law overrides the wishes of non-transgender students who do not want to use the bathroom or get undressed around members of the opposite sex. They have warned that the law means girls will be exposed to male genitalia against their will, and they say that if men are allowed to intrude into private spaces reserved for women, it opens the way to co-ed restrooms and safety risks. The opponents' proposed initiative — the Personal Privacy Protection Act — would have required people to “use facilities in accordance with their biological sex” in government buildings. Yet even this year, when the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot is the lowest it's been in 40 years, the coalition couldn't muster enough support and missed the deadline for the November 2016 election.
The message, we hope, is that Californians have rejected fear in favor of tolerance for people whose sexuality falls outside traditionally accepted norms. And why shouldn't they? The law covering transgender students has been in place for two years (and L.A. schools have had similar policies for even longer), and there have been few complaints, concerns or reports of misconduct or abuse.
Public understanding of transgender issues has grown significantly in just the last two years, with movies and television shows such as Amazon's “Transparent.” Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner put a familiar face on being transgender. One in five voters surveyed in a recent national poll personally knows or works with someone who is transgender, and, of those, 66% of respondents had favorable feelings toward that person. California's law is clearly on the side of equality and, as more transgender people openly share their experiences, broad public understanding and acceptance is sure to follow.