Will Californians Get To Vote On Protections For Trans Students?

An effort to repeal a new law that would add protections for transgender students might not make it onto the ballot for a voter referendum, according to a California LGBT activist. However, leaders behind the repeal effort say “it’s too early to call.”

Karen England, executive director of the California Resource Institute (left) and volunteers sort through stacks of mail with petitions for the referendum. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Activists opposing an effort to repeal California’s new transgender student protections law are already saying the repeal likely won’t qualify for next year’s ballot.

“It is very unlikely that this ballot initiative is going to qualify,” John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, told BuzzFeed. O’Connor points to the latest results in the state’s process of verifying signatures gathered in support of the repeal, saying the rate of valid signatures so far has been “poor.”

But those backing the repeal effort say that with only 12 of the state’s 58 counties reporting valid signatures from random samples as of Friday, it’s “too early to call.” Additional results are expected to come in daily and random sample results are due to the secretary of state by Jan. 8.

“We’re actually hopeful, and I think it’s premature that the other side is thinking that we haven’t qualified,” said Karen England, executive director of California Resource Institute and member organization of the Privacy For All Students coalition opposing the new law.

Proponents of the repeal — backed by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and anti-LGBT political activist Frank Schubert — were required to submit at least 504,760 signatures earlier this month and boasted gathering over 620,000. Slightly less — or 613,120 — have been tallied by state officials so far, with three small counties yet to report.

So far, the 12 counties are reporting an average of 75% of signatures as authentic in random samplings — significantly below the rate of 95% needed to qualify for the ballot. If the rate remains below 95% after all counties have reported to the Secretary of State, the initiative will fail.

“We already see the early indicators that their performance — their validity rate of signatures coming in under the random sampling process — is at 75%, which is average and where I expect it to stay or drop below,” O’Connor said. “The reason I suspect it might drop below is because if past performance is any indicator of current performance, we may in fact see them below average.”

If the state determines the repeal coalition has valid signatures totaling anywhere from 95% to 110% of the required 504,760, the state will conduct a full check of every signature submitted. If the number is over 110%, the repeal will automatically qualify for the referendum on the ballot, but O’Connor said this is the most unlikely scenario.

“We are very confident that we will — if not flat out qualify — that we will get to a full count,” England said. “So many factors are taken into account. Our staff has looked into it and we have no doubt that we will make it to a full count and that if we make it to a full count that this will go on the ballot.”

England said the verification process is “nerve racking” but that CRI remains “cautiously optimistic.”

Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success & Opportunity Act, 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. The measure clarifies and reinforces existing state laws that prohibit public schools from discriminating against students based on gender identity, O’Connor said. The law would have gone into effect Jan. 1, but likely won’t be implemented until the referendum is resolved. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in August.

However, if implemented, the law would lead to the invasion of privacy of some students because it limits the ability of school districts to determine how they ail comply with existing law, England told BuzzFeed.

“A school district can accommodate differently based on age, can have a unisex bathroom, or a different shower schedule so that biological boys are in it at a different time as biological girls,” England said. “The new law would restrict their options and say that you have to let biological boys and girls in the same facilities at the same time.”

But O’Connor said the new law simply clarifies existing state and federal laws and accused the groups of opposing the law for political reasons.

“The requirements for school districts to protect transgender students are already in place and this law restated those requirements to make them clearer so that school districts could better understand what their obligation is under the law,” he said. “The people who are doing this are disingenuous about their intentions. They say they want privacy for all students, but that’s just not credible. Look at who they are, they are the same people who have worked for years and years and years to attack the LGBT community.”

Because they lost on marriage equality, they “want to go and pick on transgender kids now,” he added.

England, however, said it’s about protecting the ability of school districts to comply with the current law, which in turn, protects the privacy of more students.

“A majority of California parents — and I would argue students — said we didn’t like to change our clothes in PE in front of other girls and certainly wouldn’t want to do it in front of a biological boy,” England said. “There’s nothing hateful about modesty.”

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