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Transgender Students Protected Under Bill Signed by Calif. Governor

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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law today that offers explicit protections for transgender students.

On June 6, 2013, the California State Assembly passed AB 1266, a bill that provides transgender students explicit protection in schools. On July 3, the state Senate also approved the measure.

The bill is pretty short, but that's mostly because the law already protects transgender students in theory. AB 1266 makes those protections explicit.

(For anyone wondering about the bill's timeline, Gov. Brown was overseas for a couple weeks, and his office generally declined to talk about the bill after the legislature approved it; he's not the easiest governor to predict. Enough time passed to inspire a petition.)

California law already offers significant protections based on a child's gender. Schools cannot use sex to determine enrollment in or exclusion from any classes, with certain exceptions made for sexual-health classes. School faculty, counselors, and staff members may not give students advice differentiated by sex. Physical education mandates given to one sex may not be made inaccessible to the other. (If boys have to play baseball, girls can play baseball.)

But now the law would include the following provision:

"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."

This is the first state law of its kind, although other states offer similar protections without being as specific. And on the federal level, the Democratic version of the No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill would offer lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students specific protections. Unfortunately for advocates, that proposal, like all NCLB reauthorization legislation, is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn't overshadow the strides LGBT students have made over the past year. A September 2012 survey showed a significant decline in discriminatory anti-LGBT language. Then, this May, a Colorado student successfully settled a lawsuit with her school because she wasn't allowed to use the girls' bathroom. In July, a transgender student successfully settled with his California school district over facility use, too. And in late July, the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network announced it would incorporate the Transgender Student Rights organization, moving transgender issues to a platform with a much wider audience.

Critics of AB 1266 take issue with bathroom use, worrying that students will pretend to be transgender to gain access to facilities that they should not be entering, creating discomfort for students using such facilities. Massachusetts, which has similar anti-discrimination laws, told its school administrators to talk with students about any discomfort.

In September 2010, columnist Dan Savage, along with his partner, started the It Gets Better campaign, to help gay youth discouraged by societal harassment. The campaign inspired hundreds of videos from celebrities and average citizens alike telling gay youth that life will improve.

Today, for transgender rights advocates, that promise rings truer.

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