By Elliot Owen
Bay Area Reporter
A referendum sponsored by right-wing organizations to repeal Assembly Bill 1266, a groundbreaking transgender youth equality law, has failed to garner enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
The California secretary of state’s office issued the final full check Monday, February 24. It showed that the Privacy for All Students coalition, which sponsored the referendum, needed 540,760 valid signatures. The coalition ended up with only 487,484 valid signatures, or about 17,000 signatures short.
Called the School Success and Opportunity Act, Assembly Bill 1266 ensures that California public schools are committed to the success of all students, including those transgender-identified. Under the law, transgender students have the right to participate in all school activities like sports teams, and use school facilities like bathrooms based on their gender identity.
In January, random samples taken from petition signature counts in each county qualified the referendum, albeit barely, for a full signature count. As final numbers rolled in on Monday, AB 1266 supporters nodded their approval and celebrated the continued protection of transgender youth in California schools. AB 1266, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last summer, went into effect January 1.
Richard Poppen, an Equality California board member and mathematician, watched the signature counting process closely and relayed regular informative updates to colleagues as each county reported their numbers.
“The process went through in the standard way,” Poppen told the Bay Area Reporter. “Referendum proponents got the full benefit of the statutory process but failed fair and square to meet the threshold. Trans kids will continue to be protected as the legislature intended.”
Supporters of the new law, including Equality California, the Transgender Law Center, and other groups that came together under the Support All Students campaign, were pleased the referendum failed to qualify, and thus there won’t be a divisive anti-LGBT measure on the November ballot.
“The good thing that comes out of this misguided referendum effort is that we were able to continue to educate people,” AB 1266 author Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. “Although it’s clear that California is moving in the direction of equality and respect, this does not mean the struggle is over … The people who belittle the rights of transgender students should know their efforts encourage the bullies. It is their intolerance that allows the violence to continue, and that violence affects every child, not just transgender students.”
In response to efforts to repeal AB 1266, the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club held an open meeting last week at the West Berkeley Library to highlight the “T” in LGBT, the least legislatively protected segment of the community.
“It’s no coincidence that the ‘T’ is at the very end,” said Stonewall board member and Berkeley City Councilmember Darryl Moore during the February 19 meeting. “When I talk with my lesbian and gay brothers and sisters, a lot of them don’t get the trans piece. There’s a lot of transphobia in the gay and lesbian community.”
Attended by club and community members alike, the meeting’s purpose was twofold. First, to hold an informative panel of transgender advocates to shed light on transgender discrimination. Second, to inform the attendees about the referendum opposing AB 1266, and disperse information about how to lobby for AB 1266 model policies to be applied at the local school district level. That work can continue even without a ballot measure, advocates noted.
“School boards have a great deal of authority in setting their own policies,” said the club’s secretary, Joe Greaves. “Even if AB 1266 were repealed in November, if school boards have taken the initiative to adopt policies required by AB 1266 now, they would stay in effect.”
Transgender Law Center deputy director Kris Hayashi was a panelist and stressed this attack on the transgender community would be the first of many.
“Even if on Monday the referendum doesn’t make it to the ballot, this is just the beginning,” Hayashi said. “We are in a moment where we’re going to see an escalation of right-wing attacks on the trans community. It’s also a moment where LGBT organizations have an opportunity to support the transgender community.”
The meeting’s panelists also included Jenna Rapues, a health educator at the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Health Equity and Promotion branch, and transgender activist Jae Szeszycki-Truesdell. All three panelists quoted a 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey to highlight the acute nature of anti-transgender bias.
While the preventative measures against the referendum are now moot, Hayashi indicated that LGB solidarity with the transgender community will need to take many forms in the future.
“There may have been different community priorities before,” he said, “but here is a real opportunity for the LGBT movement to show support in ways that look different than they have in the past.”
It is not known what AB 1266 opponents will do next now that the referendum has failed to quality for the ballot.
A news release that Privacy for All Students sent out just before the secretary of state’s final report indicated opponents knew they might come up short of the required signatures.
“After Monday, PFAS will finally get to see the signatures that have been invalidated and will have our turn to challenge those that were thrown out,” the coalition stated.
The coalition also indicated it may go to court to challenge the invalidated signatures.
Poppen said that would be a “tall order.”
“But to win and qualify, they would have to get 17,726 signatures un-un-qualified, about 13.1 percent of the disqualified signatures,” he said in an email. “That is, they’d have to claw back more than one disqualified signature in eight. That’s a very tall order and they’re very unlikely to succeed.”