Democratic California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has written a bill that would require public schools in his state to allow students to choose which bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams match their gender identity. Both the Assembly and state Senate have passed Assembly Bill 1266. It now sits on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. If the governor allows the bill to become law, then public school administrators won't be able to assign transgender third-graders to use a separate bathroom or play on the team of their biological gender -- even if their motive is to protect a vulnerable child.
"Separate but equal," Ammiano's senior legislative assistant, Wendy Hill, told me, already is against the law. Indeed, the new bill wouldn't really change anything; it would "just (clarify) what current law already states."
Ammiano never has been known for his tolerance toward dissenting opinions. When the late KGO talk show host Pete Wilson voiced his discomfort about a child born to be raised by a gay San Francisco supervisor and a lesbian partner in 2006, Ammiano, then a San Francisco supervisor, demanded that Wilson resign. (Wilson had said, "A child is not an experiment." Ammiano accused Wilson of homophobia and "trying to dehumanize a week-old baby.")
So it's no surprise that he'd be pushing for a bill that would sanctify the sensitivity of transgender children while steamrolling the feelings of girls who might not want biological boys in their locker rooms or on their soccer teams. (No worries, Hill told me. Those girls could ask for special accommodations if they didn't want to share facilities with a biologically male girl.)
AB 1266 also would ride roughshod over parental sensibilities and educator discretion, as some parents don't think that enrolling their kids in kindergarten must entail a talk about transgender equality.
AB 1266 would direct schools to ignore biology and let children decide how they want to self-identify. No student, including elementary-school pupils, would need his or her parents' permission to change gender identity.
Some critics have suggested that boys might use the law as a means to wend their way into the girls' locker room or to a starring position in sports. I don't think so.
But I do wonder whether it is in children's interest to let kindergartners and first-graders decide that they really aren't male or female and that they're going to switch gender identity. Is it truly responsible to encourage kids to cross the gender Rubicon before they've learned how to read?
Hill informed me that children are declaring themselves as transgender early on these days -- often before they enter kindergarten.
What if they change their minds? Have there been studies that explore whether children who change gender identity are glad as adults that they did so? "I don't know that there's been a study of people changing their minds," she answered.
And: "Transgender is not a decision that allows you to change your mind or not change your mind."
That sounds like politics, not science.
Maybe she's right. Maybe all the boys and girls who think they're girls and boys are right; maybe by declaring themselves early, they will avoid unnecessary heartache. Maybe this is the golden age of transsexualism.
Or maybe Sacramento is rushing to pass legislation that pushes confused children to make life-changing decisions that they're not mature enough to make -- and cannot erase.
Maybe it is a big mistake, as Republican state Sen. Jean Fuller warned, to pass a bill that takes away from educators' "appropriate discretion" to make decisions that protect young children and teenagers. "High-school students are not known for their maturity," Fuller noted.
No doubt Ammiano wrote this bill to protect transgender children from the torment of growing up feeling freakish and unwelcome. He apparently believes that it is wrong for kids to agonize privately about their sexuality, so he's pushing a bill that would make a student's gender issues very public, possibly before some students truly know who they are.
Sadly, supporters seem to believe that if the law requires that transgender students have access to the locker rooms and sports teams of their choosing, all their problems will melt away. An Equality California press release announces that the bill's passage would "ensure the success and well-being of transgender students." It never seems to occur to Ammiano and company that for some children, this bill could open the door to a world of pain.