A months-long effort by conservative groups to repeal California’s new transgender student protections law failed to qualify for a voter referendum on the state’s ballot this fall, the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen said Monday.
Proponents of the referendum push, which aimed to put the question of repealing the 2013 law allowing transgender public school students to use school facilities and participate in school activities based on their gender identity up to voters, failed to provide enough valid signatures to qualify for the state’s ballot. The law, or the School Success and Opportunity Act, already took effect on Jan. 1.
“We are very happy with today’s outcome upholding the majority of Californians’ belief that transgender students deserve a fair shot at doing well in school,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in a statement celebrating the failure of the referendum effort.
However, those supporting the law’s repeal, such as the Privacy for All Students coalition, said they anticipated falling short and plan to question why signatures were invalidated in particular counties across the state in a manual check conducted over the last several weeks.
“I’m not just saying this, but we were expecting this,” said Karen England of Privacy for All Students. “We knew it was going to be very close and we also know the process is closed door.”
According to the results of an exhaustive verification process released Monday night, election officials in California’s 58 counties found that out of the nearly 620,000 signatures submitted by backers of the initiative, only 487,484 are valid — or, in other words, have been found to belong to registered voters in the particular county where they were submitted. To qualify a referendum on the state’s ballot, proponents of an initiative must provide at least 504,760 valid signatures.
Over 130,000 signatures were found to be invalid, but England contends her organization will be able to have some of those added back to the total once her organization is given access to the records, which are maintained at the county level.
“We intend to go into the counties and start looking at the signatures,” she said. “We are hoping they will be added back. I don’t believe that over 130,000 people who signed were not registered. I believe we will qualify. Now that there’s sunshine, numbers will be added back.”
Privacy for All Students argues the law will lead to discomfort among students in school restrooms and locker rooms and have dubbed it “the co-ed bathroom law.” But supporters of the law say it simply clarifies and reinforces existing state law that prohibits public schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity — policies that are already in practice in large schools across the state.
Redwood Heights School in Oakland, Calif., established a policy for transgender students five years ago and school officials say it has been a success. The law is based on successful policies like the one at Redwood Heights, which gives educators and school administrators instructive guidance on how to work with transgender students and their families, according to the Support All Students campaign, a coalition of nearly 100 state and national organizations supporting the law.
“We want our students to know that when they walk onto this campus, they are welcomed for who they are,” said Redwood Heights Principal Sara Stone in a statement. “Every educator I know went into the education field because they truly care about young people and making sure they have everything they need to do well in school.”
The School Success and Opportunity Act, or Assembly Bill 1266, requires school districts to allow students to use school facilities consistent with their gender identity, and participate in school programs and activities — such as sports — consistent with their gender identity. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in August after it passed in the state legislature last summer.
Updated — 9:30 p.m. ET