The measure, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Aug. 12, gives transgender students the right "to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities" based on their perception of their gender and regardless of biology, as described by the Associated Press.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights were among the bill's supporters, AP reported, and while Brown signed the bill without comment, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D.-Los Angeles, said the new law "puts California at the forefront of leadership on transgender rights."
Proponents of the bill say it will help transgendered students avoid discrimination and bullying while opponents have argued it is damaging to children.
"Jerry Brown and the Democrats have targeted every kid in public school with gender-bending brainwashing," Randy Thomasson, president of the SaveCalifornia.com conservative family issues organization, said in a news release.
"Fortunately, parents can protect their children from the insanity of biological boys in girls' restrooms and girls' showers and biological girls in boys' restrooms and boys' showers by exiting the dysfunctional, immoral public schools for homeschooling and solid church schools," Thomasson said.
A spokesman for the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, told AP that transgender students are just trying to fit in, not cause trouble for other students.
"They're not interested in going into bathrooms and flaunting their physiology," Carlos Alcala said, noting that the Los Angeles Unified School District has had the same policy for nearly 10 years without any reported problems.
But Karen England, executive director of the Sacramento-based conservative organization Capitol Resource Institute, said the law is unnecessary. She told AP that existing state law, which already prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity, is enough to protect transgender children.
The answer is not to force something this radical on every single grade in California," England told AP, noting that since no uniform data on parent or student complaints is being collected, it is impossible to accurately determine the effects of such policies.
"What about the right to privacy of a junior high school girl wanting to go to the bathroom and having some privacy or after PE showering and having to worry about being in the locker room with a boy?"
Alcala acknowledged some parents may not be pleased with the new law.
"We are hopeful school districts will work with them so no students are put in an uncomfortable position," he told AP.
The law comes on the heels of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education into California's Acadia Unified School District for allegedly not accommodating a transgender student.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the student is biologically female but, according to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, has identified as a male from a young age. The Department of Justice received complaints in 2011 that the girl was not allowed to use boys' restrooms and locker rooms during her sixth- and seventh-grade years. The girl also allegedly was not allowed to stay in a cabin with boys during a district-sponsored camp.
The school district reached an agreement with the Department of Education July 24 that ended the investigation, according to the Times. Among the terms of the agreement: The district agreed to treat the student like male students and to include gender-based discrimination -- including transgender status -- as discrimination based on sex.
The Massachusetts Department of Education took its own steps to mandate transgender access in February, issuing a directive stating that each student "may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student's gender identity." The directive also discouraged the use of gender-based clothes and practices such as lining up elementary school children by gender.
The Massachusetts directive was issued in response to a state law that added "gender identity" to the state's nondiscrimination code. Pro-family advocates argued that such a sweeping directive was not required by the law and would only hurt children.
"The School Commissioner's first duty is to protect all students, from kindergarten to grade 12, not endanger them," Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in a statement. "The overriding issue with this new policy is that opening girls' bathrooms to boys is an invasion of privacy and a threat to all students' safety."
John Evans is a writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net