Starshine Roshell highlighted the importance of transgender rights in her column “Transgender Students: More than a Plumbing Issue.” AB 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, was the springboard for her droll yet supportive comments; however, misconceptions and sensationalized representations of this law, gender identity, and transgender lives surround the LGBTQ community and need to be debunked. Gender identity is an inborn component of everyone’s identity; treating people differently because of gender identity is just like discriminating because of race, size, or ability.
The fundamental purpose of AB 1266 is to prevent the unfair exclusion of transgender students from participation in gender-based school activities, programs, and facilities; it does this by restating existing anti-discrimination laws. It is vital that we understand that this law aims to protect our most vulnerable youth. Trans Student Equality Resources reports that 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression. The use of restrooms and the privacy of non-transgender students have attracted media focus, which fails to mention that it is only logical and appropriate that students use the facility consistent with their gender identity and presentation. Inevitably, the discussion then shifts to perceived advantages in sports, which clouds the fact that excluding transgender youth from sports denies them significant physical, mental, and social benefits.
The need for the protections conferred by the legal and social recognition and acceptance that the trans movement fights for is largely ignored or misunderstood. For instance, today in the United States, transgender women face a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered; for transgender women of color that rises to 1 in 8. Thirty-three states have no legal protections from employment discrimination based on gender identity, and transgender people still cannot serve openly in the military.
November 20th was Transgender Day of Remembrance. Pacific Pride Foundation and the community honored those who have lost their lives due to transphobia, hatred, and violence with a vigil at the courthouse. A statement from State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson highlighted the reality of transgender lives in America: “Transgender individuals experience double the rate of unemployment, near-universal harassment on the job, housing instability, and extremely high rates of poverty”. Senator Jackson was vocal about her support, stating, “This law takes an important step to acknowledge that everybody should have same opportunities to participate and succeed in school programs and activities with their personal dignity respected.” She joins the ranks of other local elected officials, leaders, and organizations that support the law, including Mayor Helene Schneider and the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The group attempting to repeal AB 1266, Privacy for All Students, bases its arguments on unfounded fears and uses misinformation to make school-age children political pawns for its members’ prejudices. In contrast, the group Protect All Students, supported by Equality California and the Transgender Law Center, provides accurate facts, personal testimonies, and resources, and has a petition to pledge to protect all students — all of which can be found at supportallstudents.org.
The rhetoric used when discussing transgender people and identities in the media often categorizes them as pathological and strange. For people whose gender identity and physicality align, the idea that the two may not always align can seem atypical or different, but must people who are transgender be labeled as strange or ill? This not only normalizes the marginalization and stigma surrounding transgender identities and people, but also sends the message that it is okay to not understand that some people experience gender differently.
Perhaps even more frequently, gender identity and sexual orientation are conflated, and the fight for transgender equality is inaccurately labeled as “sexual rights.” This reduces the lives of transgender people to sexual conduct and behavior while unnecessarily and inaccurately sexualizing their identities. The topic becomes shrouded with secrecy and discomfort, and that hurtles the discussion about equality, dignity, and respect into a taboo arena that our sexually repressed society encourages us to ignore. We remain uncomfortable with the sexuality of young people — gay, straight, bisexual, or pansexual — which further inhibits an understanding of gender identity and expression. Furthermore, this is not the beginning of our sexual rights but the continuation of gender rights.
Let’s shift our focus and rhetoric away from bedroom and bathroom activities. Instead, let’s discuss integrity, authenticity, and the celebration of diversity. This law certainly is not the beginning of transgender rights, nor is it the end. But for some, this may be the beginning of a personal understanding and realization that we all have the right to expression and that we all deserve to have our identity protected.
Pacific Pride Foundation is a community center in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) inclusion and equality. We offer counseling, support groups, and youth groups, engage in grassroots political activism, and foster LGBTQ pride and community. More information can be found at our website or by contacting Tyler Renner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 963-3636 x117.