Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

State OKs anti-trans
signature effort


TLC's Ilona Turner(Photo: Courtesy Ilona Turner)
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Anti-trans activists received the go-ahead to gather more than 500,000 signatures in their efforts to undo a new California law designed to support transgender students.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Monday, August 26 that Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute and its affiliated Capitol Resource Family Impact, and others have until November 10 to submit at least 504,760 valid signatures to put their attempt to overturn Assembly Bill 1266 on the state ballot next year.

AB 1266, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law August 12, aims to make sure that transgender youth can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.

The law's supporters are dismissive of the referendum, while at the same time acknowledging that they can't completely ignore it.

Gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) authored the law, which is the first of its kind in the country and goes into effect January 1.

"This is the kind of kneejerk reaction LGBT people have learned to expect on our road to liberation. It deserves to be monitored and we'll have a strategy for countering it as is appropriate," Ammiano said in a statement.

The odds are against efforts to challenge the law. England and others made similar attempts in recent years to repeal Senate Bill 48, which is known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act and requires that California school students be taught about the historical contributions of LGBT Americans.

That effort was unsuccessful, as anti-gay activists appeared to have trouble raising money to hire paid signature gatherers, which is typically a key step in putting initiatives on the ballot. England didn't respond to an interview request for this story.

Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, which backed AB 1266, said that the current referendum effort "is the same tactic that we see every time we have advancement in LGBT equality. The anti-equality forces get scared and seek to use this as an issue to rally their base to roll back our protections that are hard-won."

Turner said she's "cautiously optimistic" that opponents of the law will fail to qualify their proposal for the ballot.

"It doesn't seem very likely that they will be able to get the required number of signatures," she said, because "this is an issue of basic fairness and equal opportunity for transgender kids, and I think that's something that most people get."

Turner added that AB 1266 is "a clarification and codification of existing non-discrimination requirements that already prohibit schools" from treating transgender boys different from other boys, and from treating transgender girls different from other girls.

"Even if they were successful in repealing AB 1266, that non-discrimination principle would still be a part of both California and federal non-discrimination law," she said.

However, "I don't think we can afford to be complacent," said Turner. "If they do get the signatures, we will be prepared to go all out to fight this attempt to roll back these protections, because we can't afford to let our kids keep suffering the way they have been."

John O'Connor, executive director of Equality California, which was part of a coalition that supported AB 1266, was also dubious of the referendum's chances of overturning the law, but he said, "We're not taking anything for granted."

Asked if he thinks England and her cohorts will succeed, O'Connor said, "Of course I hope not, but hope is not a plan. We're watching as carefully as we can for real information, which would be in the form of monitoring for real political leadership that gets behind the proponents' campaign, evidence of signature gathering happening in a robust way, and evidence of any significant money" going toward the work to collect signatures.

AB 1266 has garnered national media coverage, and Turner said TLC and others would continue working to educate people on why the law is important. She said backers are "taking every opportunity" to continue "educating people about the reality of transgender young people's lives and why this is so critical."

O'Connor made a similar pledge.

"We will come together and address any real threat to this legislation that comes up," he said. "The lives of young transgender people are what's in the balance, and we're really committed to defending this law."

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