The Culture War in California Rages in Public School Bathroom Stalls

Transgendered teens to become an election issue


Problem solved
Credit: marsmet472 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

California's new law acknowledging transgendered students adds the following to the state's code:

"A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records."

The concerned social conservative response can be summarized as "OMG! Boys in the girls' bathroom! And you can't stop it!" Opponents have used this tactic to get enough signatures to possibly force Assembly Bill 1266 to a vote. From the Associated Press:

A coalition of conservative groups called Privacy for all Students submitted 620,000 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2014 ballot, said Frank Schubert, the political strategist handling the signature gathering effort.

To qualify, at least 505,000 valid signatures must be submitted. To verify the signatures are real, each of California's 58 counties will first check that the count is correct, then conduct a random sampling of signatures to make sure they are legitimate. After that, it is likely the state would order a full review to ensure the integrity of the signatures.

If, after all of the reviews, the group has the requisite number of valid signatures, the initiative would qualify for the ballot.

This fight has the potential to get really nasty. The Pacific Justice Institute (not to be confused with the totally unrelated liberty-minded Pacific Legal Foundation) caused a bit of a shitstorm by targeting a single transgendered student at Florence High School in Florence, Colo., claiming the biologically male student was "making sexually harassing comments toward girls he was encountering" in the bathrooms. Some media outlets apparently reported the story as gospel only to discover later that these incidents are disputed and the school believes no incident actually happened. The National Review Online, for example, reported the claims and then updated later with the school's response that they hadn't had any incidents of harassment. Others apparently deleted the story entirely.

Cristan Williams, a writer at Transadvocate, tracked down the school's response that the transgendered teen isn't harassing anybody and that just one parent is upset. She found a post from a girl from the same school saying she's never seen the student harass anybody else and nobody had a problem with the student using the girls' bathroom. Parents apparently got upset after he was outed as transgendered in a Facebook message somewhere. Also, the commenter claimed the student gets beaten up trying to use the boys' bathroom.

This is going to be the kind of fight where everybody is arguing over who the true victims are. Opponents are insisting that some sort of privacy violation is taking place in the school bathrooms, like these filthy holes are sacred spaces. The Pacific Justice Institute has a video of a woman in tears – actual tears – over being unable to stop a biological boy from using the same bathroom as a girl. If this makes the ballot, the fight is going to be very unpleasant to watch. Conservative Republican member of the State Assembly Tim Donnelly made news for pulling a son out of public school after this law passed. He just recently announced plans to run for governor and posted about his outrage, so he clearly wants it to be an election issue.

I have yet to see any actual real-world examples that indicate granting transgendered students some leeway here will result in any sort of victimization of non-transgendered students. Thinking that boys will game the system (because that's really what we're talking about, right?) to harass girls ignores that boys honestly don't need to go through all this effort if they want to do so. And any sort of actual harassment could result in discipline and even criminal charges. Girls can sexually harass other girls and the same holds true for boys. The increasing acceptance of gay students didn't make it legal for gay teens to harass their peers. The predatory fears of what transgendered folks may be up to may make for some interesting movie plots, but it's not a real-world thing.

Of course, more school choice would help solve all of this, and all students could find education choices that suit their interests and needs better. Failing that, this whole effort smells of faux outrage by adults who are still (and will perpetually be) terrified of the development of teen sexuality and individual identity.