California GOP Backs Effort To Overturn State’s Transgender Student Protections Law

“[T]hey had to find a new boogeyman and that is transgender kids,” says the out gay regional vice-chairman of the California Republican Party. If the referendum organizers collect enough signatures, the measure would go on the November 2014 ballot.

California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, primary sponsor of the transgender rights bill. Inset: Greg Gandrud, the out gay regional vice-chairman of the California Republican Party. Rich Pedroncelli / AP

The California Republican Party is backing an effort to reverse a new state law that would provide protections for transgender public school students — a move that left some party activists shaking their heads.

In a move led by conservatives and tea party activists, the party approved a resolution Sunday to endorse opponents of a recent law that would add protections for transgender public school students. State GOP leaders voted in favor of the measure, along with several other proposals approved by the party’s initiatives committee, at the semi-annual California Republican Party convention in Anaheim, California, this past weekend.

The resolution formally supports efforts by Privacy For All Students, a coalition of conservative opponents of the law, to repeal the law in a voter referendum in the November 2014 elections. They argue that the law would infringe on parental choice and cause discomfort among students in school restrooms and locker rooms. Groups in the coalition, such as the Capitol Resource Institute, refer to Assembly Bill 1266 as “the co-ed bathroom law.”

“Clearly the California Republican Party understands that AB 1266 is a threat to the privacy and safety of public school students throughout California,” said Gina Gleason, a proponent of the referendum, in a newsletter issued by the coalition. “Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, showers and locker rooms will not decrease bullying. It is bullying.”

Specifically, AB 1266 is meant to establish protections for transgender public school students by ensuring equal access to school activities and facilities, including restrooms. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill Aug. 12 following approval in both chambers of the California General Assembly earlier this year. Currently, the law is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014.

The decision to pass the resolution came with significant opposition, Greg Gandrud, a regional vice-chairman of the California Republican Party, told BuzzFeed Monday night. Gandrud, who is gay, voiced concern about the party’s image when he voted against it in committee Saturday, but said it was not debated when approved by the broader convention of party leaders on Sunday.

“There were a lot of people who voted no, like myself, Log Cabin Republicans, and our straight allies,” Gandrud said. “I am openly gay, and I want to build the party so that we can build up some authority on other issues like keeping taxes low and fixing roads and making sure we have reliable drinking water in California.”

Gandrud accused supporters of the referendum as acting selfishly by “obsessing over social issues” they can use to activate their base of donors. “Some people are very emotional about it,” he said. “They are the same people who opposed marriage equality and they are just conservative on social issues. They are just running out of issues and they could raise a lot of money on those issues and they had to find a new boogeyman and that is transgender kids.”

Acknowledging some of the concerns voiced by opponents of the law, he said, “There’s nothing in the current law that prevents somebody who really isn’t transgender to go and use any bathroom.” Because the law does not require transgender students to provide any certification from physicians, he said, “The law opens up the door for a lot of abuse and I can see how that can happen. But we do have to recognize that there are transgender children and they — like gay and lesbian children — deserve protections.”

And while he acknowledged that the party’s endorsement could boost opponents’ campaign for a referendum, Gandrud and other supporters of transgender protections doubt they will gather the 505,000 signatures needed before the Nov. 10 deadline.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, told BuzzFeed that the law in question and other LGBT protections will likely remain in place. One of the key opponents of the law, the Capitol Resource Institute — currently mired in some of its own controversy — simply opposes all LGBT rights and protections in California, Davis said.

“It is somewhat shameful that the [Republican Party] aligned itself with groups like the CRI and [other] groups that are behind the referendum,” Davis said. “We have a lot of fair-minded Republicans in the state that believe in supporting all of our youth, and I don’t believe the decision this weekend speaks for them.”

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