In the midst of the horrific news of civil war atrocities, alleged chemical weapons attacks, and likely upcoming US missile strikes in Syria, it is refreshing to reflect on two recent civil rights victories for LGBT youth in California.
In the first of these advances, on August 12 Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1266, the nation’s first legislation to codify statewide K-12 public school protections for transgender students regarding sex-segregated facilities.
Thanks to the School Success and Opportunity Act, as of January 1, 2014, California youth will have the guaranteed right to access the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities, regardless of the genders listed on their school records.
The new law will also protect the right of public school children to choose whether to participate in boys’ or girls’ sports.
Gender-panicked conservatives have expressed concerns that AB 1266 will be abused by teenaged boys wishing to peek into girls’ bathrooms, or by male athletes seeking a competitive advantage by playing on girls’ sports teams.
However, the Los Angeles Unified School District has enforced a similar pro-transgender rights policy for eight years without a single problem having been reported.
Apparently unconvinced by the blemish-free records of L.A. Unified and other public school districts with similar policies–including San Francisco Unified School District–opposition groups filed paperwork to introduce a ballot initiative overturning the new law only four days after it was signed by Gov. Brown.
Opponents are also gearing up to challenge the School Success and Opportunity Act with lawsuits. The Sacramento-based conservative Pacific Justice Institute is currently seeking plaintiffs to allege privacy violations or reverse discrimination in sports team selections.
Fortunately, there is good reason to predict that opposition efforts will fail, at least in the courts: In the second recent victory for LGBT California youth, on August 29 the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the state’s ban on so-called conversion therapy for gay and transgender children.
The court ruled simultaneously against two challenges to SB 1172, also the first law of its kind in the nation.
Signed by Governor Brown in September 2012 and originally scheduled to go into effect this past January, SB 1172 barred licensed California mental health providers from engaging in attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of a minor, on the grounds that such “reparative therapy” is both ineffective and potentially harmful.
The Ninth Circuit ruling overturned an injunction that had prevented the Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) prohibition from going into effect as scheduled. Plaintiffs had challenged the statute on the basis that it violated freedom of speech, a claim that was unequivocally dismissed by the court.
California is now free to enforce its ban on SOCE, thus protecting LGBT and questioning minors from dangerous “therapies” condemned by every major medical and mental health organization in the nation, including the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The federal appeals court decision is good news for gay and transgender youth in New Jersey as well, where Governor Chris Christie signed the country’s second anti-SOCE bill into law last month.
Meanwhile, the California legislature continues to blaze the trail for LGBT rights and protections.
On September 3, with bipartisan support, the state senate passed AB 663, a bill that provides for mandatory training to ensure respectful, competent care for LGBT seniors in residential facilities.
Later that same week, the senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to make it easier for transgender Californians to obtain changes to legal names and documents to accurately reflect their gender identities.
This bill, AB 1121, removes significant bureaucratic and financial impediments to procuring gender-corrected birth certificates, and exempts transgender persons from the expensive and potentially dangerous public name-change announcement currently required by state regulations.
Both bills now await only Governor Brown’s signatures to become law.
May the governor soon grant us two more reasons to celebrate in California.