Opponents hope to flush California's unisex school bathroom bill

Public Schools
by Mary Jackson
Posted 10/17/13, 03:10 pm

Concerned parents and teachers have launched a petition drive to qualify a ballot measure that would repeal California’s controversial “co-ed bathroom” law, which requires schools to make accommodations for K-12 transgendered students.  

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in August, making the state the first in the nation to allow students to choose bathrooms, showers, locker rooms, and sports teams based on their “perceived” gender identity rather than their biological gender. 

The “Privacy for All Students” campaign has until Nov. 12 to collect over 500,000 signatures to prevent  the law from taking effect on Jan. 1. If successful, the referendum will place the issue on the November 2014 ballot, allowing Californians to decide.  

The repeal effort has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and received an endorsement from California Republican Party delegates earlier this month, prompting the law’s proponents to predict another divisive “Prop. 8” battle. 

But Dunlap, Calif., teacher and parent Gwenn Southerland, 45, said the issue is hardly political. “This is about parents who love their kids, who value their privacy, and want them to feel safe when they drop them off at school.” 

The eighth-grade English teacher fears the new law will allow anyone to walk into a bathroom of the opposite sex—and lead to widespread abuse. “At parent meetings, is it going to be OK for a man to go into the girls bathroom?” Southerland asked. The state’s powerful teachers’ unions supported the law, but Southerland said teachers and administrators will be left to navigate a new set of disciplinary issues when it goes into effect: “I would not in good conscience allow my students to leave for the bathroom during class time.”  

As a mother, Southerland worries her eighth-grade son would “feel his privacy was extremely violated” by shared bathrooms and locker rooms. State law already prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and equips schools with a private unisex bathroom in the nurses’ office. “This law caters to a minority while putting the majority at risk,” Southerland said.  

The law caught many parents off guard. Cypress, Calif., mother Emma Han, 38, heard about it when it was signed into law. Now, she is considering homeschooling her 6-year-old son Justin, a student in the Savanna School District. Han said her son recently experienced bullying by other boys in the bathroom, leaving him afraid to use the facilities at school. Opening the bathrooms up to the opposite sex will only “lead to more victims and more perpetrators,” while also fostering more confusion in young children, she said. 

These concerns are propelling “a core of citizens who are outraged by how extreme this bill is,” referendum co-chairman Karen England said. The campaign is relying on volunteers, paid signature-gatherers, and circulation of the petition through its website to meet the looming deadline. England has no accurate count on how many signatures proponents have collected, but said the support is “overwhelming.” 

The group recently hired Frank Schubert, the veteran political strategist behind Prop. 8, to oversee the referendum. Others backing the campaign are Concerned Women for America, the National Organization for Marriage, the Pacific Justice Institute, the California Catholic Conference, and a host of churches, England said. 

Opponents are gearing up for a fight. John O’Connor, head of Equality California, the state’s largest group advocating for LGBT rights, recently set up a counter effort, “SupportAllStudents.org,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.  

For Southerland, though, the law is about safety: “This will be the last straw for many parents.”

Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.

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