The state Senate in California approved a bill Wednesday that would allow transgender students K-12 access to public school bathrooms based on their chosen gender identity and to play on their school's one-sex sports team of choice. The bill, which already passed in the state Assembly last May, passed by a 21-9 vote and now goes to the governor.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Assembly Bill 1266 is aimed at prohibiting "discrimination against transgender students" in the state's school districts, Ammiano said.
Some school districts in the U.S. already have similar policies, but the author of the bill says its implementation would mark the first time a state has mandated such treatment by statute, according to AP.
California schools are already prohibited from discriminating against students based on their gender identity, but the legislation provides more detail, said Carlos Alcala, a spokesman for Ammiano.
Statewide policies in at least two others state, Massachusetts and Connecticut, give the same protections, but AP reports that neither policy is in statute, according to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
In the event that California's governor signs the bill, students would have the right "to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities" based on their self-perception, no matter what their gender at birth.
However, lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen, who voted against the bill say its passage would mean students would be susceptible to abuses.
"It is not all about discrimination. Elementary and secondary students of California – our most impressionable, our most vulnerable – now may be subjected to some very difficult situations," said Nielsen, as reported by AP.
Nielsen is concerned that officials and parents would not be able to regulate which students, who identify themselves as transgender, enter locker rooms or bathrooms used by the opposite sex. He warns that the privilege could be abused by "youthful sex offenders."
"Think about the millions of California parents and students who at the least would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with what this bill would impose upon them," Nielsen said.
Another concern is in the area of sports, according to Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood). Male athletes who are struggling in competition against their own gender could "game the system" by competing against female athletes, the lawmakers said.
"There are kids out there that are struggling, that are having difficult times," Knight said. "But there are also kids that are going to take advantage of the system."
AP reported that Nielsen and Knight voted against the bill, while Wright was among eight members of both parties who did not vote. Wright was also concerned that schools could end football and similar sports if it became an increased liability by letting girls play.
In defense of the bill, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) pointed to several major California school districts that already have had such policies for a long time.
"To date there's been no single reported incident of any misconduct," Lara said. "Let's not confuse silly behavior issues with sensitive gender identity issues."