AB 1266 represents positive change for transgender students

Understanding AB 1266
On August 12, Governor Jerry Brown made history by signing the School Success and Opportunity Act, also known as AB 1266. When AB 1266 takes effect on January 1, it will give transgender students in public and publicly funded K-12 schools an opportunity to fully participate gender specific programs, activities and facilities.
To clarify, transgender and trans* are both adjectives used to describe people whose biological sex does not match their gender identity. Transgender men are men who were born female (the trans* community would say “assigned female”) and transgender women are women who were assigned male at birth. There are also non-binary trans* people, like myself, who do not label their gender as “male” or “female.”
Most would agree that it’s important to give all people basic respect and dignity. In the case of transgender people, this means recognizing our gender identities as valid instead of reducing us to a combination of our genetics and anatomy. Oftentimes, transgender students are forced to choose between participating in gender-segregated activities that do not align with their gender identities, or removing themselves from the situation altogether. Forcing people to choose between being themselves and being able to fully participate in school feels degrading.
Schools not recognizing trans* students’ gender identities hurts our well-being and health. Having to act like something we’re not can have negative mental health consequences. To illustrate that concept, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2011 National School Climate Survey shows that students who were out at school reported higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
Discrimination against trans* students can lead to physical health problems as well. For a lot of trans* students, their only option is using gender-specific bathrooms that are not consistent with their gender identities. As a result, many avoid going to the bathrooms at school. I know I was in that situation. Walking into a girls’ bathroom felt like screaming to the entire world, “I’m a girl!” And that made me uncomfortable.
Some people call AB 1266 the “bathroom bill.” While the intentions might be good, the nickname actually separates it from its meaning and significance. The School Success and Opportunity Act’s purpose is to give trans* students a chance to succeed in school. CNN quotes Ashton Lee, a transgender junior at Manteca High School: “I just want to be treated the same as all the other boys, but my school forces me to take P.E. in a class of all girls and live as someone I’m not…I can’t learn and succeed when every day in that class leaves me feeling isolated and alone.” Ashton’s experience is by no means isolated. According to GLSEN’s survey, 32.5 percent of LGBTQ youth avoided their P.E. classes at least once because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. For transgender students, this number is even higher because P.E. can be very nerve-wracking or even unsafe due to its gendered nature.
AB 1266 ensures that schools protect trans* students, a marginalized group that is disproportionately affected by discrimination and harassment. According to the previously mentioned National School Climate Survey, 80 percent of transgender students do not feel safe at school because of their gender expression. Being able to use facilities that are consistent with their gender identities makes transgender students feel more welcome and safe at school. For me, the California legislature’s support shows that my identity is acknowledged and understood. I can fully appreciate AB 1266 because in Russia, where I’m from, LGBTQ people are currently losing their rights and it would even be illegal for me to publish this article.
Responding to Opposition
There are a lot of fears and concerns associated with AB 1266, but most of them are based on misconceptions. Once people take the time to understand the law, they should be more likely to support it.
A common misconception is that transgender students are just “boys who want to be girls” and “girls who want to be boys.” This leads to worries about boys using the girls’ bathrooms and girls using the boys’ bathrooms. This misconception comes from a misunderstanding of the difference between gender and biological sex, which do not always align. Biological sex refers to a combination of chromosomes, hormones and sex characteristics that are usually classified as male or female. Gender refers to how people see themselves in relation to societally defined gender roles. This means that transgender girls are girls just like any others. They just happened to be assigned male at birth. AB 1266 allows them to finally use the right bathroom.
Another fear some people have is that when AB 1266 is implemented, it could allow cisgender (non-transgender) boys to access girls’ spaces and harass girls. However, we must use the anti-harassment policies already in place to combat this problem. Also, if someone is dangerous, they have countless opportunities to harass others with or without AB 1266.
Some opponents point to the fact that most cisgender students will be uncomfortable sharing facilities with trans* students. But other people’s transphobia shouldn’t be our problem. We should not be denied our rights just because some people have a problem with who we are.
People’s fears about the implementation of AB 1266 are just that: fears. Both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Unified School Districts, two of the largest in California, as well as many other districts, have already implemented a policy similar to AB 1266 and the world has not ended yet.
People who oppose AB 1266 are attacking transgender youth, be it consciously or subconsciously. Right now, certain organizations are spreading misinformation, ignorance and hate about AB 1266. They need to gather 505,000 signatures by November 12 to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act. If you are ever approached by anti-trans* rights signature gatherers, please do not sign their petition and call the toll-free “Alert Hotline” at 1.866.377.0578 or email [email protected] to alert the organizations working for transgender student rights.
Implementing AB 1266
Not all trans* people identify as men or women. When implementing AB 1266, schools should allow non-binary students to use facilities and access spaces that we identify more with. I, for example, identify more with being masculine than feminine. Although all gender specific spaces make me uncomfortable, I am by far more comfortable in male spaces. I recognize this may make some people uncomfortable, but keeping non-binary students like me out of gendered activities and facilities is discrimination based on gender identity.
Another way for schools to help non-binary students is to create gender neutral spaces, such as single-stall gender neutral bathrooms. However, schools should not force trans* students to use gender neutral facilities separate from other students because this too would be discriminatory. Additionally, existing gender-neutral facilities are often inconveniently located. AB 1266 means schools have to give trans* students access to gendered spaces, but schools that have the desire and ability to further support their trans* students can work on making gender neutral facilities accessible for all students.
Los Altos High School should implement AB 1266 ahead of time to comply with California’s current laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex, gender identity and gender expression.
While AB 1266 expands the rights of transgender students, there is more to be done before trans* students, like myself, have all the rights we deserve.


Junior Sasha Sobol is the president
of the Gay-Straight Alliance.