Outside the binary: AB 1266 gives students gender equity

Graphic by Brandy Coats

The new year represents a sense a hope, excitement and whirling possibility of what could happen in the upcoming months, like an ever-elusive fortune cookie. As this new year rung in, Jan. 1, 2014 marked the beginning of California setting a precedent as the first state in the nation to implement AB 1266, a law that would allow K-12 public school students who identify as transgender to access public spaces that have been traditionally biologically segregated.

The law, also known as the Success and Opportunity Act, allows for transgender students to participate in school sports, utilize locker rooms and bathrooms with the gender they identify with most rather than the gender they were biologically assigned by birth. AB 1266 breaks down socialized gender and sex norms that are implemented since birth and are seamlessly implemented in our everyday lives.

As someone who identifies as the gender I was born, I’ve never experienced any form of this kind of discrimination. I have never been scrutinized for the bathrooms I entered in school, questioned for partaking in the sports teams I engaged in, or even dealt with the realities of being verbally or physically assaulted for who I innately was — something transgender and gender non conforming folks know all too well in their formative years.

The immense bullying and social stigma lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)  students still receive is grossly problematic. A recent study released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which surveyed 100,000 LGBTQ-identified youth ages 13-17, revealed that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be verbally harassed and called names at school than their heterosexual counterparts. Ninety-two percent of LGBTQ youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ and 42 percent say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBTQ people. This adds up to immense stigmatization, harassment and mistreatment at home and at school. If those stats aren’t disconcerting enough, a study by the National Network of Liberties and Medicine concludes that a staggering 41 percent of transgender youth attempted suicide.

These are just some of the startling statistics revealing that LGBTQ youth are still experiencing harassment at school, immense unacceptance for who they are, and uneasiness to be open about their identity in public. The Success and Opportunity Act allows students to obtain a sense of agency, allowing them to decide who they are and in what ways they want to use this accessibility of public space and organized sports.

This law is an institutional declaration of existence to transgender and gender nonconforming youth. Creating a sense of agency in the marginalized populations of LGBTQ individuals is imperative to breaking down heteronormativity. In addition, this law addresses the tumultuous environments that marginalized community faces and gives space for community dialogue to address the intersectionality of oppression that exists and morphs into different forms.

The signing of the Success and Opportunity Act is just another in a string of initiatives that reflect and substantiate the need to address the various inequities that marginalized communities face. California’s attempt to bridge some gaps is seldom perfect, but they are honest attempts to find solutions to the various pressing social problems that we face as a society.

The title of the Success and Opportunity Act is a direct reflection of what this law is trying to achieve: an equal accessibility of opportunity for all students to have the same ability for success. I am convinced its intent is to ensure transgender students, their parents and their advocates that the barriers and stigma that are surrounded by gender nonconforming students be taken down. This is so they are afforded the same accessibility to be successful participants in their educational community as everyone else, with the basic rights to participate in school sports and go to the bathroom.

This law has already been implemented by the Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts, and Gov. Brown giving institutional backing for such decisions to support transgender and gender nonconforming K-12 students is a powerful statement to substantiate the dire need to address the barriers transgender and gender nonconforming students face.

Some of the scrutiny this law has received is that its framework is overly broad. This law has no specific requirements nor guidelines on how it will be implemented in different school districts, allowing for the unique needs of each school to engage in how they respond to help best facilitate for the students who attend, making it a more flexible engagement in equity for transgender students, parents and facility needs and concerns.

The intention of this law is to foster an environment of learning, success and opportunity for all students — not just the students who can neatly fit into the ever-confining box of intersectionality (race, sex, gender, class and so forth). In this day and age, most students don’t fit in the box of race, class, sex and gender identity all that neatly, imploring the question: Why do we still live in a world of hegemonic and ideological discourse of binary representation when the composition of student bodies is more of an array of representation?

Among the opponents to the law, the religiously affiliated Privacy for all Students Coalition has been very loud about their opposition, determined to dismantle this law with all the ammo they have. It’s just their view of “abomination’’ and a policing of sexuality that is not expressed in heteronormative ways.

Their opposition stems from their fear that transgender students being in the same bathroom and locker room with other students is “harmful.” It insinuates the pervasive view of transgenders’ “innate” perversion that will be expressed to their heteronormative kids if not suppressed. This has been entrenched in common narratives, based in a fear with no credible basis other than a subjective place of hatred.The only “harm” it’s doing is dismantling the binary gender expressions, and giving spectrums of what is “norm” to all kids — as well as the “harm” it has had on transgender students emotionally and physically by constantly being denied basic rights.

Opponents have raised other concerns; for example, if a biologically born boy who identifies as a girl plays on a girls sports team, would it be an unfair advantage? This assumption is refuted by the fact that it perpetuates standards of gender expression that boys are stronger, more aggressive and more competitive than girls. In fact, the California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body on sports rules and regulations, already has regulations in effect that protect and support transgender participants in sports teams.

The most erroneous concern is that the law would make other kids uncomfortable to be interacting with kids who don’t fit the gender binary. People need to see discomfort is nothing when it is on the basis of creating an unwelcoming and unsupportive environment for transgender students. All that students, parents and advocates want in any learning environment for children is the respect and dignity that should be afforded to everyone — period.

This law potentially provides a new array of normalities and breaks down the hegemonic discourse that relies on gender conformity and binary as an acceptable space, when in actuality it is very confining. Allowing for kids to identify themselves, instead of various institutions identifying them, will bring immense progress to accepting individuals’ intersectionality.

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