California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on Monday that will allow students to compete on sports teams and use facilities like showers and bathrooms based on their gender identity, regardless of what is listed on the student's records.
Although other states, such as Colorado and Massachusetts, have policies on transgender equity and discrimination, California is the first to have the law written into state codes, mandating that schools must respect students' preferences for what programs they participate in and what facilities they use. The law, dubbed by some as the "School Bathroom Bill," will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Assembly member Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill, said Brown's signature was "terrific" and that it marks an important victory for transgender rights as transgender students "no longer must hide who they are, nor be treated as someone other than who they are."
Although California law already bans discrimination against transgender students in public schools, the law serves as a clarification so transgender students will not be unfairly denied access to certain programs and facilities.
Ammiano cited a recent case in which a transgender student in Arcadia, Calif., who was born female and identifies as a male, had to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education to resolve a dispute in which the school district denied him access to men's restrooms and locker rooms on campus.
"This is a powerful affirmation of basic human dignity, and puts California at the forefront of leadership on transgender rights," said Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, in a statement. "Young transgender Californians should be treated with dignity and respect, and recognized for who they truly are."
Although the law is meant to give transgender students equal rights and to avoid future lawsuits, Republican lawmakers and religious leaders still strongly opposed the measure, saying it would force co-ed locker rooms and that it infringes on the privacy of other students.
Assemblymember Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, for example, delivered more than 3,000 of letters of opposition to Brown last week, from members of a church in his district.
"This 'one size fits all' approach to something like gender disregards the privacy of our children and the diversity and local authority of school districts in California," Hagman said in a statement.
The California Catholic Conference said that the law was unnecessary and that incidents in which students are "struggling with or confused about their gender identity" should be handled individually and confidentially.
"Solidarity with those who may be the object of discrimination is appropriate and should be shared by all, but we ought to balance that with common sense and trust in the leadership of the local school level," the organization said in a statement to lawmakers.