Some social conservatives are campaigning to "save our kids" from a new California law prohibiting discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgendered students in public schools. But their rescue operation -- which involves both a ballot initiative that has stalled implementation of the law and a suit in federal court -- is at best premature and at worst an exercise in fear-mongering.
The target of the campaign is Senate Bill 777, signed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which amends the state education code to provide protection for students from harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents see SB 777 as a mostly technical clarification of existing laws against bias in the classroom, including the 2000 California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act. For opponents, the legislation is a Trojan horse for the "homosexual agenda."
Critics have focused on language in the law recognizing that a student's gender identity might not be "stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth." They offer dark scenarios in which teenagers will whimsically assume and discard gender identities, and in which a 250-pound linebacker will feign transgenderism to enter the cheerleaders' locker room. Critics also say that, by prohibiting "bias" against gay, lesbian or transgendered students, the law might make it dangerous for teachers to refer to "Mom and Dad." The real purpose of the law, according to one opponent, is "to disregard the traditional family, and its beliefs, and respect for a mom and dad raising the kids." Then, presumably, heterosexual students will be ripe for "recruitment."
To which we say: Oh, brother. Or rather: Oh, sister. The hysterical hand-wringing of these critics is almost reason enough to support this legislation. The law isn't a curriculum guide that requires teachers to inform students about the historical contributions of gays and lesbians. It's an attempt to protect students from being bullied and demeaned because they are "different," whether that difference is a matter of religion or race or, yes, sexual orientation or identity. Protecting students isn't just part of a homosexual agenda; it ought to be on everyone's agenda.
Implementation of SB 777 has been on hold while opponents gathered petitions -- due today -- to place a repeal of the law on the ballot. Some opponents also have a fallback: a lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare the law unconstitutionally vague. They should all calm down and give the law time to work.