Bay Area Reporter, CA, USA
Jock Talk: Tackling the gender binary in school sports
by Roger Brigham
[Photo: NCLR legal director Shannon Minter (Photo: Courtesy NCLR) ]
Legislative consideration of a bill that would ensure transgender
students access to gender-associated school programs, including sports
teams, consistent with their gender identities has been put on hold
for a year.
When out Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 266
last February, the bill called for creation of a state sports
authority "for the purposes of eliminating intrastate conflicts in the
procurement of sports teams, coordinating efforts to procure and
retain professional sports teams within the state, and helping to
finance sports arenas within the state."
In other words, someone who could help ease the insanity of Santa
Clara and San Francisco squabbling over the 49ers; get the Oakland/Los
Angeles/Oakland/Probably-LA-Again-Soon-Enough Raiders to pick a city
and stick with it; and help the Sacramento Kings hold on for dear
But when Ammiano amended the legislation this month, it was a
drastically altered bill that was referred to the Assembly's education
committee for a hearing. The bill as it now is written would amend
Section 221.5 of the education code, which mandates equal
opportunities in public school programs regardless of gender, to
specify that a "pupil shall be permitted to participate in
sex-segregated school programs, activities, and facilities, including
athletic teams and competitions, consistent with his or her gender
identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records."
Representatives of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the
Transgender Law Center said their organizations had worked several
months with Ammiano's office to formulate the bill, but asked him to
pull it before its scheduled January 11 hearing. Opposition groups
such as California Family Council and Capitol Resource Institute cited
their constituents' outcry as having killed the bill, but NCLR and TLC
said they were putting the bill on hold to work on building
legislative support and educating those who would be in charge of
implementing the policy.
"It's not enough just to pass a law," Shannon Minter, legal director
of NLCR, told the Bay Area Reporter . "If you do that without changing
the minds of school officials, it doesn't really change the problem.
It's not just about passing laws: it's about changing people's
attitudes and positions about issues. In particular, when it's about
young children, it requires a lot of conversations."
The alarmist messages from opposition groups speculated on the
possibilities of boys claiming to be girls so they could join girls
field hockey teams or use girls restrooms just to get their jollies
off. The reality is that policies in line with Ammiano's bill are
already in place in many schools and the results have not been the
stuff on a National Lampoon movie.
"San Francisco and Los Angeles unified school districts already have
pretty good policies on this issue" Minter said. "And there are some
individual schools across the state that have been very supportive.
But there have been some parents who have had real difficulty getting
schools to understand this issue and being supportive of transgender
Minter said NCLR and TLC had been talking with Ammiano's office "for
about a year or more about including transgender students in sports.
We were very excited. But I think it was an evolving process and we
started to realize that we really needed to bring in more people."
Kristina Wertz, legal director of TLC, said transgender youth are
vulnerable to excessive amounts of harassment and deserve access to
the programs that will help them build their self-esteem.
"The discrimination and harassment that transgender youths can face
can be life threatening," Wertz said. "For transgender youth, we see
incredibly high rates of harassment and bullying and a lack of
appropriate programs. Sports is an incredibly important part of their
experience and education. They have the right to access everything
that is a part of the school experience. That means equal access to
sports and other programs."
Wertz said TLC will reach out over the course of the next year to
"allies in Sacramento, folks in school systems, LGBT and youth
organizations" and hopes the bill will be re-introduced next year.
"We really wanted to give ourselves a little more time to get some
more school districts and key officials and the scholastic federation
on board to make sure they were genuinely part of this process,"
Minter said. "What we've seen with this issue is initially people just
do not understand it, but when they've had a chance to meet some of
the kids and families and a little bit of a chance to process it,
people are very supportive. Our goal is to change the culture in
schools across the state.
"The good news is that if we do take the time, the majority of people
are very supportive. But we need to have those conversations," he
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