I got the news at the beginning of summer. The school my sons had gone to for the past five years was closing. With sadness, I needed to find them a new private school. I checked out the local public elementary school, and found to my pleasant surprise that it had a lot to offer my 10- and 11-year-old sons. It was worth considering.
At the same time, the California Legislature was busy with an adventure of their own. Assembly member Tom Ammiano and co-author Senator Mark Leno introduced and passed the School Success and Opportunity Act. The act looks out for the small percentage of students in the system who are transgender. It rules that "a pupil 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 bill's authors explained, "Although current California law already protects students from discrimination in education based on sex and gender identity, many school districts do not understand and are not presently in compliance with their obligations to treat transgender students the same as all other students in the specific areas addressed by this bill. As a result, some school districts are excluding transgender students from sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities. Other school districts struggle to deal with these issues on an ad hoc basis. Current law is deficient in that it does not provide specific guidance about how to apply the mandate of non-discrimination in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities."
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. California dad, assemblyman Tim Donnelly not only voted against the law, he is pulling at least one of his sons out of the public school system because of its enactment. In an editorial he states, "My 13- and 16-year-old boys were horrified at the idea of sharing a bathroom and locker room with a member of the opposite sex, after having discussed AB 1266 with them."
I had a similar discussion with my sons. Check that. Not similar, on the same topic. Rather than present the situation to my sons in the horrific genitals-on-display terms that Mr. Donnelly apparently did, I discussed the challenge that transgender students face. "Their brains and hearts tell them they are one gender, but everyone sees them as the opposite gender," I explained. The boys immediately described a friend of theirs that seems to be exactly that way. I continued. "Our state just passed a new law that allows these students to decide for themselves who they are, and to do the activities that feel right for them."
"Great!" Jesse declared in his it's-all-solved kind of way.
"So . . . you are okay with them using the same bathroom as you?" I asked, treading into dangerous territory.
"Hmm. Well, that is one part that would be kind of weird," he mused, thinking about his friend.
"Awkward!" his brother, Jason, piped up. "They told us that only boys should see each other's privates. Those are the rules."
"They actually are boys, even if you don't think they look like they are. The law makes the actual rules, and frankly, I am not sure anyone should be looking at anyone's privates at all," I suggested. "You are in the next stall behind a sheet of metal. You aren't seeing them." I thought back to my college days of using a dorm's co-ed bathroom facilities that contained stalls and private shower cubicles. I had been impressed by how inconsequential it all was.
"Yeah," Jesse agreed after a moment of reflection. "It would be different, but no big deal." Jason nodded in agreement and turned back to his dinner. End of discussion . . . no horror, no trauma. Later the boys brought up their friend again.
"It would be so cool for her to do what . . ." Jesse's voice trailed off as he corrected himself, "do what he wanted to do," he finished.
Having walked through such a discussion firsthand, I can only speculate as to what the Donnelly family version must have been like. If it was anything like the assemblyman's presentation in the media, or reflective of the sarcastic mock hysterics on Fox News, it was filled with sensationalist talk of opportunistic, exhibitionistic heterosexuals, ogled genitals, and lots of communal bathroom functions.
Those arguments do nothing to make me fear respecting my transgender neighbor. However, they do give me pause about being caught alone in a bathroom with an anti-gay Republican. I am going to wonder exactly what he's looking at in there.
Here is the bottom line (pardon the expression). Donnelly is pulling one of his sons out of the system over fear of his coming in contact with a transgender student. I am going to put two sons into the system in celebration of the dignity it affords them and a friend they care about.
Here is my open note to the assemblyman:
Yes, Mr. Donnelly, I see your bet and double you. You take out one student; I am putting in two.
I am thrilled to have my kids in a system that does not allow children to be traumatized by anti-gay "therapy," that teaches them about LGBT contributions in history, and that allows their fellow students dignity. That is reflective of the world I want them to know, and the world I want them to lead.
The public outcry that you and Fox News are trying to stir up is as irresponsible and unwarranted as the discomfort and humiliation you are attempting to instill in your own sons.
The Los Angeles Unified School District adopted this policy in 2004 and has run it without outcry. Mischievous heterosexuals are not permitted to play pretend transgender so they can shower with the opposite sex, as several conservative pundits have stated they themselves might be inclined to do. The California Interscholastic Federation has guidelines in which students or their parents "must contact the school administrator or athletic director indicating that the pupil has a consistent gender identity different than the gender listed on the pupil's school registration records, and that the student desires to participate in activities in a manner consistent with his/her gender identity." The school considers the case and sets a course of action consistent with the Los Angeles Unified School District guidelines, "Where available, a 'gender neutral' restroom may be used by any student who desires increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason . . . Schools may provide a student access to a locker room facility . . . considering the available accommodation and the needs and privacy concerns of all students involved."
I want to inspire my kids to strive for the principles of dignity, privacy, and the excellence that all individuals have the right to develop within themselves. You seem interested only in having yours scurry off in search of a fig leaf.
Am I concerned about putting my sons in the public school system that you and your party have worked to underfund? Yes. I worry about my sons dealing with the larger class sizes, the potential for bullying, reduced access to the arts, and being trained to score high on tests rather than really learn. I will be vigilant on all those issues, I can promise you.
I will not, however, lose sleep over their transgender friend whom they adore and who might use the same restroom they do. I will not conjure up fears in my children over situations where they have an opportunity to appropriately expand their comfort zone and embrace others different from themselves. I will not turn my back on a smaller population who faces enormous demoralization and abuse at the hands of an arrogant majority, all for the sake of feigned modesty and heterosexual lust.
Neither should you. Your choice to sensationalize this issue with your sons and scare them from wanting to attend their schools is a disappointment, in my opinion. That you seek to undermine our state's school system, one which you think yourself qualified to lead as our governor after the next election, is irresponsible. That you ignore the welfare of a minority of students, and propose that ostracizing them is a benefit to the majority, is unconscionable.
Something stinks here, and it is not the bathrooms or locker rooms you decry, it is your lack of integrity.
Thanks to Rachel Hockett for editing assistance on this article.