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Suit Filed Over Trans Student Law

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Friday Dec 27, 2013
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Frank Schubert
Frank Schubert  (Source:Jane Philomen Cleland)

Anti-gay activists are suing state officials over a new state law designed to protect transgender students.

The Privacy for All Students coalition has been working to repeal Assembly Bill 1266 for months. The law is set to go into effect January 1. Officials are currently performing random sample verification of the signatures, and that process will be completed by January 8.

The anti-gay activists must ultimately reach 504,760 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. If they reach 110 percent of that by January 8, or 555,237 signatures, the referendum qualifies, and the new law will be suspended until November. Otherwise, if the coalition just reaches 95 percent of the lower number, a full count of the signatures will be ordered, and the law will not be suspended until the referendum qualifies.

If the random samples determine the coalition only hits 95 percent, or 479,522 signatures, then the referendum won’t qualify. The coalition submitted more than 600,000 petition signatures to elections officials last month.

AB 1266 aims to make sure that transgender youth can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity. Gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) authored the bill, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in August.

Several other LGBT-related laws, such as those meant to help homeless youth and people living with AIDS, are also set to go into effect next week, and legislators and activists are working to craft more gay bills for 2014.

However, none of the proposals has drawn as much attention as the law anti-gay activists call "the co-ed bathroom law," working to scare voters with notions that horny grade school boys will be walking into girls’ bathrooms and assaulting students.

In a Thursday, December 19 news release, the day Privacy for All Students filed its lawsuit, the coalition claimed "the secretary of state is unfairly refusing to count any of the signatures presented to Tulare or Mono counties in support of a referendum to overturn" AB 1266. (Those counties’ registrars of voters are also defendants in the suit.)

Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, wasn’t available Friday to comment on the coalition’s lawsuit.

People on both sides say it’s too early to predict what the random counts will show. Validity rates from three of the state’s largest counties - Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego - weren’t available as of last week.

In a Friday, December 20 interview, Frank Schubert, the Privacy for All Students campaign manager, said the coalition is "fighting for every signature" because the final count "is going to be very close."

Schubert, who was the mastermind behind California’s now-defunct Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, said, "The main principle is people’s signatures should be counted."

John O’Connor is executive director of Equality California, one of the main supporters of AB 1266. In an interview Thursday before Privacy for All Students announced its lawsuit, O’Connor said, "It’s so hard to say" what the outcome of the random counts will be.

"We’re just not going to know until January 8," he said.

If the anti-gay coalition succeeds and the law is suspended, it will be placed on hold until November, said Schubert. His group will then begin arranging its campaign "and figuring out how we’re going to approach getting the grassroots organized throughout the state," as well as establishing a fundraising program "to raise the resources necessary to communicate with people," said Schubert.

He said he didn’t yet know how much they’d need, but it would be "several million dollars for sure." He estimated his group has raised $500,000 to $600,000 "to get to this point."

"We’ll have an integrated fundraising campaign of major donors, direct mail, email communication, and direct solicitation," said Schubert. He declined to say what he’s being paid for his work, but it’s "not much at all." The figure couldn’t immediately be determined from data that’s been provided to the secretary of state.

Nothing Against Trans Students

Asked why he’s working so strenuously against transgender students, Schubert said he’s not. He said he’s doing the work "because I think this bill is very bad law" and "completely unnecessary." The state "already has many laws on the books to protect transgender students," he said.

"I don’t have anything against transgender students," Schubert said. However, he said, the law "bullies the 99.9 percent of the students who are not transgender and is a cruel joke to those that are transgender."

"I can’t imagine telling a student who’s gender-confused ... that somehow his problems are going to go away if he just uses the girls’ locker room. It’s just ridiculous," he said.

Schubert said AB 1266 "forces open all school showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, and changing areas to anyone’s claim of gender identity, and there’s no attempt to balance the interests of students who might be bothered by having to share the most intimate school facilities [with] someone of the opposite biological sex."

It may be hard for many people to imagine a boy pretending to be transgender and subjecting himself to the issues that could come with that just to peek inside the girls’ bathroom, but Schubert said, "Oh, I think we’ll have a lot of examples of it." He predicted "some will prey on kids" and others will use it "as a practical joke."

Disputes with Counties

Privacy for All Students was required to submit signatures to each of the state’s 58 counties by November 10, the 90th day following Brown’s approval of the law.

According to the coalition, an overnight courier tried to deliver signatures to the Tulare County Registrar of Voters on the afternoon of November 8, but "the registrar’s office closed early on this Friday before a three-day weekend."

The courier attempted to deliver the signatures to someone in the mailroom, but was told to bring them back the following Tuesday, according to the coalition.

In an interview Friday, Ann Turner, the Tulare County registrar’s elections division manager, said she wasn’t familiar with the lawsuit.

"We have not been served with any paperwork in our office," said Turner.

She said the agency regularly closes at noon on Fridays, as posted online.

"There wasn’t any special closing for a three-day weekend," she said, adding, "I don’t know that they went to our county mailroom at all. That’s the first I’ve heard of it."

Turner said the registrar’s office ultimately received the coalition’s signatures, and a raw count showed the activists had submitted 4,889 signatures. The agency reported that "rough estimate" to the secretary of state’s office, which called for a random sampling, she said. Out of the 500 signatures sampled, 79.2 percent, or 396, were considered valid. That figure was reported to the secretary of state, which made the "determination to record a zero" for the county, according to Turner.

Privacy for All Students said that in Mono County, a package of signatures was placed "in the mail slot at the county office on the 89th day," but county staff didn’t return to the office and "process the signatures until after the deadline."

Mono County Registrar Lynda Roberts said Friday that she wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, and "I really don’t have any comment at this point, because I have to check into the whole situation to see what they’re claiming."

Other New Laws

Besides AB 1266, the governor also signed several other Ammiano bills into law. Assembly Bill 4, the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act - more commonly known as the TRUST Act - addresses issues with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Secure Communities program, widely known as S-Comm.

AB 4 prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining someone on an ICE hold after he becomes eligible for release from custody, unless that person’s been convicted of a serious or violent felony such as murder or rape.

Amminao’s AB 652 takes on the reporting of child abuse and neglect as they relate to homeless youth. The law says that the condition of homelessness alone isn’t a basis for reporting abuse or neglect.

"This is important, because teens were staying away from shelters, health care and schools because they feared they would be reported to law enforcement or child welfare," a news release from Ammiano said.

Brown also signed gay Senator Mark Leno’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 249. The law aims to help people who are living with HIV, especially those in programs funded by the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act, coordinate care as they transition to new coverage under federal health care reform. The bill also ensures the privacy of all HIV blood tests.

AB 256, which was authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), is another new law. The legislation updates state anti-bullying law to allow school superintendents and principals to discipline students who use computers, smartphones, or social media to harass or threaten others on or off campus.

Another new law related to youth is Leno’s SB 274, which is meant to protect children who have more than two legal parents.

Brown also signed Assemblyman Phil Ting’s (D-San Francisco) AB 362, which aims to provide tax fairness for same-sex couples. AB 362 went into effect October 1.

Lesbian Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’s (D-San Diego) AB 1121 is among several other new LGBT-related laws. The legislation simplifies the processes people have to go through to legally change their name and gender.

Coming Up

Equality California, Transgender Law Center, and others are also looking at crafting more new bills. One potential piece of legislation is related to death certificates. Masen Davis, the transgender group’s executive director, said it "would ensure the identity of a transgender person is respected even after their death."

Ammiano said he has several pieces of legislation in the works. One bill would streamline the emancipation process for homeless youth.

"Many of them are out of their homes because of their orientation or identity and have trouble in foster care for the same reasons," he said.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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