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A level playing field for transgender students

Editorial

This fall, they'll be allowed to participate on sports teams of the gender they identify with.

May 03, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Amber was born a male but has been living as a girl. When this photo was taken, she was 12 years old and had been on puberty blockers for a year.
Amber was born a male but has been living as a girl. When this photo was taken,… (Los Angeles Times )

Society is only beginning to understand transgender identity. For a young person who feels at odds with the physical gender that he or she sees in the mirror, there are major obstacles to be faced in the world at large, where acceptance is just about where it was for gay people 30 years ago. Even for those transgender children or teenagers who have supportive parents — and many don't — it's not an easy existence.

The state of California and the California Interscholastic Federation have stepped up on behalf of these young people in admirable ways. In addition to banning discrimination based on gender identity in jobs and housing, state law broadly prohibits discrimination against transgender students. In February, the federation adopted a progressive policy, which takes effect in the fall, under which transgender students must be allowed to participate on sports teams of the gender they identify with rather than the teams of their physical gender — after a panel reviews each situation to determine that the athlete truly is transgender.

But these are still fraught questions in some places. In some schools, transgender students are now allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify rather than the ones that match their physical gender; other schools don't allow it. Transgender students describe going on field trips to school-related camps and being assigned to sleep in separate cabins.

VIDEO: Living with a secret

New legislation would bring clarity to the situation. Under AB 1266, schools would be required to provide transgender students with full access to facilities and activities in conformance with the gender that they feel identifies them. This won't necessarily be easy; there undoubtedly will be people who strenuously object to having someone who is physically of the opposite sex sharing locker rooms and showers; others will certainly argue that if children with the physical attributes of boys are allowed to play on girls' sports teams, it will be unfair.

Obviously, these are uncomfortable questions for some students and parents. But discomfort is not a valid reason to allow discrimination, just as it would not have been acceptable for schools to ban gay or lesbian students from the bathrooms of their respective genders 30 years ago.

In the end, this might play out as a less controversial issue than some people think; Los Angeles Unified already has a full-access policy for its transgender students and reports that it has gone smoothly. Teenagers and young adults are notably freer of biases about sexual orientation and identity. If the adults don't make trouble, chances are that things will be fine.

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