California’s K-12 transgender bathroom bill sparks war on privacy rights

California recently passed a law that allows school age students to use any bathroom they like. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, December 4, 2013 — California has done it again. The state’s lawmakers approved a bill which permits public K-12 schools to allow transgender students who feel like they belong in the opposite sex to choose which restrooms and locker-rooms they use. Although other states have adopted similar legislation, the state of California’s AB1266 is the first that actually mandates action for school districts.

The current California state law already denies California school districts the ability to discriminate against transgendered students based on their gender identity. Other states like Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut all have vaguely similar bills, which simply authorize the similar measures.

However, this new law has already excited severe opposition in local school districts around the state. Religious groups as well as conservative families have begun filing petitions and complaints to local school boards and to their state’s office of civil rights, claiming that school districts are violating the state’s privacy laws, and that the new law violates their children’s rights to privacy.

Although the bill is now on its way to the governor, many Californians are fighting to have it overturned. Here’s why. If a male child who attends a local school self identifies as transgender or “female,” he will be able to use the girls’ restrooms and change clothes in the girl’s locker rooms. This happens whether he is seven or 17. As body issues become more important in puberty, this puts girls in an awkward and frightening situation that none of the children have the maturity to deal with as adults. To tell a teenage girl that she should treat a teenage boy in her locker room as just another girl and expect her to do so demands that we forget everything we know about teenagers.

AB2166 fully allows  K-12 children, grade-schoolers and teens, the right to make decisions for themselves about which bathrooms and locker rooms they will use at an age where few are prepared to understand or deal with the ramifications of those decisions. It also grants K-12 students the right “to participate in sex-segregated activities and special programs, regardless of their gender or parental consent to do so.” California’s state lawmakers have jeopardized the privacy of students and interfered with the rights of their parents, and done so in a way that is not calculated to improve acceptance of transgendered students. 

Supporters of the law claim, to the contrary, that it will help protect young students from bullying, teasing and mental abuse. How it does that is not clear; transgendered kids in the other sex’s locker rooms will not automatically engender comfort and respect, and adults who expect children to respond like miniature, mature adults in that situation are deluded.  

The state legislature may have bitten off more than it can chew with this bill. Catholics, conservative groups and Hispanic voters have expressed concerns over a bill that they reasonably believe poses a risk children’s emotional welfare and safety. Public school superintendents, administrators and members of the California boards of education will be forced to find quick solutions to guarantee that privacy rights and physical safety are ensured. The risks and costs of this legislation have not been fully thought out.

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