Repeal Vote Likely on Trans Law

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Bay Area Reporter

Saturday November 16, 2013

Backers of a new California law meant to protect transgender students are preparing to fight for the legislation as anti-trans activists announced they've submitted more than 600,000 signatures to place a referendum on next year's ballot.

The Privacy for All Students coalition had had until Sunday, November 10 to gather 504,760 valid signatures to put a referendum against Assembly Bill 1266 on the November 2014 ballot. AB 1266, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in August, aims to make sure that transgender youth can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity.

In a news release Sunday, Privacy for All Students said it had submitted more than 620,000 signatures to election officials. It could take several weeks to determine whether the coalition submitted enough valid signatures.

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter , Frank Schubert, the anti-trans campaign's manager, said the high signature count "does not guarantee we are going to be on the ballot. ... [I]t will all depend on how many of the signatures are verified as being valid and I expect it to come down to the wire."

The coalition indicated volunteers collected about 400,000 of the signatures, while paid signature gatherers collected "just over" 220,000.

In the news release, Schubert, the mastermind of California's now-defunct Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, stated, "The validity rate of volunteer signatures is considerably higher than those for a paid signature drive. Historically, elections officials invalidate a significant percentage of signatures but many of our volunteer petitions have a validity rate of over 90 percent. We will be completing our internal validity checks over the next few days, but we believe the referendum has a good chance of qualifying."

Gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who authored AB 1266, said in a statement, "It's a sadly familiar story that goes back to Proposition 8" and previous anti-LGBT efforts over the years.

"The people who oppose my bill for transgender rights mistakenly think that they can overturn a movement with their petitions," he added.

Ammiano said even if the referendum succeeds, "it would not change the fact that non-discrimination against transgender people is already the law in California and will already protect all students' access to the appropriate facilities."

Courts have backed those rights, he said, and the Privacy for All Students effort is "nothing but bullying at the ballot box and only makes sense as a way for these groups to raise more money by throwing fear into their supporters and misleading people about what the law does."

The law is set to go into effect January 1, but according to Privacy for All Students, if the group collected enough valid signatures, the law will be suspended until voters approve or reject it.


AB 1266 backers are preparing for what could turn into a costly campaign if the referendum makes it onto the ballot.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center, said in an interview that his organization's been working with other AB 1266 co-sponsors, including Equality California, to work on implementing the law, as well as "building a coalition."

However, Davis said, "I'm not convinced at all" that the referendum will qualify. He said, "Based on the number of signatures they submitted they'd need at least an 81 percent validation rate," which Davis said he understands is "higher than average."

If the anti-trans activists succeed, though, "We're going to need people to step up and support transgender youth, and we will do everything within our effort to protect the law and make sure the truth about our youth gets out there."

Privacy for All Students' campaign could be tough to beat. In 2008, Prop 8's backers successfully used children in their ads against same-sex marriage, scaring many voters into thinking children would be harmed if marriage equality were allowed in the state.

In a recent interview with the B.A.R. , Karen England, executive director of the Sacramento-based Capitol Resource Institute, a key coalition partner, said, "a girl shouldn't have to be forced to shower physically with a boy in the same shower." The idea of boys being allowed to walk into girls' bathrooms whenever they want would likely be a theme of the coalition's campaign. Opponents of AB 1266 even refer to the legislation as "The co-ed bathroom law."

Asked how he and others would combat such a theme, Davis said, "It's no doubt that they will do their best to mischaracterize the law and transgender youth. I believe strongly that if we can get the true experiences and true lives of transgender people out in the media, people will see through the opposition's lies."

Bay Area Backing

The anti-trans coalition has received some backing from Bay Area contributors, including Audrey Ellerbee, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. In September, she contributed $500, state data show.

Ellerbee told the B.A.R. she made the contribution "because I thought it was an important issue to get on the public ballot."

One thing that bothers her about AB 1266 is "it seems that parents don't really have a role or a voice to play in what happens either to their children" who identify as transgender or a similar gender identity, or for parents of students who don't, she said.

"I think children are so young. I think it's important parental involvement not be restricted for things like that," said Ellerbee.

She added that she didn't think her affiliation with Stanford "has anything to do with her contribution," and asked for it not to be mentioned. In a follow-up email, she said she'd made her comments "strictly under the auspices of my identity as a public citizen."

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