Transmissions: Of petitioners, privacy, and 'Pacific justice'
by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
California's Assembly Bill 1266 is still facing a struggle. The bill, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in August, provides a number of protections for transgender students in public schools. It's a great law that reduces a lot of sex-based discrimination in school as well as providing for transgender students' needs in classrooms. The law, which takes effect January 1, amends section 221.5 of the education code to read as follows:
"A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records."
Of course, it is this section that has some people upset. Leading the way is the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense organization.
I first heard of PJI back in 1999, when it was involved in the termination of Dana Rivers from Center High School in Sacramento, California. Rivers, a transgender woman, had challenged her dismissal, and PJI found four parents supposedly upset with Rivers, as well as hired a private investigator to collect information on Rivers. The school settled the case to the tune of $150,000.
PJI jumped on AB 1266, and has spearheaded efforts to force a ballot measure to repeal the bill. Labeling it a "bathroom bill," PJI has tried to float the idea that allowing transgender students to use their preferred restroom will allow male students to predate female ones. Images and text on PJI's AB 1266-specific website (http://www.genderinsanity.com) paints a vision of "your 7-year-old daughter" in tears about a boy in the girls' restroom, and a school that cannot do anything about it.
A hastily assembled referendum effort was launched under the name Privacy for All Students, with signature gatherers touting the same concept, or outright claiming that AB 1266 would lead to "co-ed" restrooms in schools. Some of these same petitioners were caught spreading lies and half-truths, claiming stories about students in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area who supposedly had used similar rules to assault students. Further review of these claims proved them to be baseless.
The story they have mostly chosen to fall back on, however, is that of a trans student in Florence, Colorado. The initial reports claimed that the student was harassing others in the restroom. PJI also misgendered the student, again painting a picture of a male high school bathroom predator. Within days, its story was shot down.
PJI backpedaled, claiming that it was the mere presence of the student in question that was causing "harassment," not the actions of the student in question. It claimed that this student "is not completely transitioned" and that it had "reports" that she was presenting in both genders.
Meanwhile, the student they painted as a predator has been under suicide watch as a result. The so-called harasser has most certainly become the harassed, all for being herself.
Thanks to the efforts of Privacy for All Students, some 614,311 signatures were turned in to county officials across California. This is where it gets sticky. At this time, opponents need 82 percent of those signatures to check out in order to get the referendum on the November 2014 ballot. So far, however, they are falling short – with around a 76 percent validation rate. This could be good news for transgender people in California, particularly those in public schools.
Privacy for All Students has vowed to keep up the fight, making sure that "every signature is counted, and that the rights of those who signed the petitions are protected."
PJI is far from done, however. Much like with Rivers, it is not satisfied with waiting for the signatures to be counted, and is seeking parents willing to be plaintiffs in federal court.
As PJI's Brad Dacus put it, "If that child can validate that this transgender has expressed their intention to use the opposite sex's bathroom or locker room or showers, and they're willing to come alongside to be a plaintiff at our action ... then they should contact us because that gives us standing to be able to have a preemptive action."
To date, there have been no known cases of a student using any similar legislation to actually harass others in the restroom. It's also not been seen among adults in areas with transgender-inclusive public accommodations. Much like the student in Colorado I mentioned, the closest the PJI seems to hope to find is a transgender student who may have "expressed their intention" to use a facility.
I find myself wondering who is the victim here. The best case PJI and others have managed to dig up has resulted in a transgender student becoming suicidal: hardly the predator they had hoped to paint her as.
So now, in order to attempt to fight AB 1266, PJI is party to a witch-hunt, trying to track down transgender students based purely on hearsay and speculation, in the hope they can be party to a federal lawsuit to overturn the law. All of this while Privacy for All Students cannot presumably garner enough signatures with a deceptive campaign claiming that AB 1266 forces "co-ed" facilities onto elementary students.
This is the chilling part. If you are a transgender student in the state of California right now, know that these are the people who are seeking to harm you. They're trying to get any student in your school to turn to them, potentially breaking any confidence you may have had to rob you of your rights.
Let us hope, for our sake, that they fail.
Gwen Smith takes this seriously: she was once assaulted in a restroom. You can find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.