California made history on Monday in passing a bill proponents herald as an important breakthrough in transgender rights that will help chip away at systemic bias and violence against transgender students and make significant improvements towards equal access to education for transgender youth.
The bill, AB 1266, requires schools to respect transgender students' gender identities, including allowing them full participation in sex-segregated activities and use of sex-segregated facilities as their current genders—not the sex they were assigned at birth.
This means they can join the sports teams and use the bathrooms that reflect their gender identities.
"In reality, this is about the safety of our trans students," Ben Hudson of the Gender Health Center told the CBS Sacramento Affiliate. "These students are often in fear of their own safety, and their own protection. They’re concerned about being bullied in school."
"I'm so excited that California is making sure transgender students have a fair chance to graduate and succeed," said Calen Valencia, an 18-year-old transgender student from Tulare. "I should have graduated this year, but my school refused to give me the same opportunity to succeed as other boys. Now other transgender youth won't have to choose between being themselves and graduating high school."
The bill, which will go into effect January of next year, was backed by dozens of organizations, including teacher and parent groups, as well as the National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Equality California, Gender Spectrum and Transgender Law Center.
Proponents say that this is a significant step but still depends on enforcement at the school and classroom level, urging that real equality will be one through broad social embrace of gender nonconforming and transgender identities.
While this is the first state bill of its kind targeting school, Colorado and Massachusetts have passed similar statewide policies.
The bill survived despite numerous attacks from right-wing politicians and organizations, declaring that allowing transgender students use of school facilities according to their gender identities is a violation of students' privacy.
This is despite a lack of evidence supporting these claims and mounting evidence that transgender and gender nonconforming youth face severe violence and discrimination. According to a study by National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 78 percent of youth with transgender or gender nonconforming identities in grades K-12 faced harassment, 31 percent faced harassment from teachers or staff, 35 percent face violence and 12 percent face sexual violence.
In addition, a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which looked at data from 18 states, found that U.S. hate violence and homicide in 2012 disproportionately targeted transgender and gender nonconforming people of color.