- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2014

A California referendum on a proposed transgender student law failed Monday when insufficient valid signatures were turned in to the state.

The California secretary of state’s office posted the final tally on its website Monday evening showing the petition drive lacked 17,276 valid signatures to put the referendum on the November ballot.

Opponents of AB 1266, sometimes called the transgender “bathroom bill,” said they weren’t finished.

Privacy for All Students and referendum proponent Gina Gleason have “people lined up” to go to county offices Tuesday morning to review the rejected signatures, Karen England, co-chairwoman of the group, said Monday night.

San Diego County, for instance, threw out about 14,000 signatures, and San Bernardino County threw out 13,000, she said. “I don’t believe all of those are unregistered voters or should have been thrown out.”

California case law is clear about “erring on the side of voter intent,” she said, and signatures should not be rejected because they lacked a ZIP code or because the margins of the ballot printouts weren’t exactly right.

“We believe there are more valid signatures there, and that we are going to be close enough to pick up that difference,” Ms. England said.

The failure of the measure to qualify means “all students in California can breathe a little easier,” said John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, one of many gay-rights groups and their allies who support AB 1266 and formed a group called Support All Students to build momentum for it.

“It’s a sign of our progress that they fell short of their goal,” said Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, adding that his organization will continue to stand with their partners in California to oppose “the vitriol behind this effort.”

The School Success and Opportunity Act, signed in August by Gov. Jerry Brown, updates state anti-discrimination law to permit students from kindergarten through 12th grade to decide themselves what bathrooms, shower rooms and locker rooms they would use and which sex-segregated teams and activities they would join.

The intent of the law is to permit children with gender-identity issues to fit more easily into school activities, without being overruled or micromanaged by school officials or others.

Until now, California school officials were required to work with students, parents and others to address the students’ needs and choices. Problems still occurred, though: Transgender student Ashton Lee, who called for Mr. Brown to sign the legislation, said that even though he presents himself as a boy, he was forced to attend an all-girls physical education class.

In February, the California School Boards Association released a model policy to help the state’s 1,043 school districts comply with AB 1266, and Equality California, the Transgender Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Spectrum and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center were among those that applauded the new policy.

But many Californians protested AB 1266, saying it doesn’t require students to be consistent about their gender or upfront about their issues, and thereby opens the door to children using opposite-sex facilities as they please. This violates other students’ rights to not have people of the opposite gender in areas where they are disrobing, showering or using bathrooms.

Privacy for All Students began its petition drive last fall to put AB 1266 before voters in November. They turned in 619,381 signatures, hoping to meet the threshold of 504,760 valid signatures.

The bad news seemed apparent Monday morning: The number of signatures still needed required a validity rate of nearly 86 percent, which was higher than rates in most counties.

Ms. England said supporters are undaunted. “We are still confident we will be placing this on the ballot, and we will be fighting for every ballot signature,” she said.

In San Diego, a gay-rights group planned a rally to support transgender students Monday night.

“History shows us that if the referendum fails, an initiative or legal battle over this bill is sure to follow,” said Suhaila Devdasi, a spokeswoman for Canvass For a Cause. “So no matter what, we’re not going to be silent anytime soon.”

Separately, a Southern California transgender student was permitted to join the girls high school varsity softball team, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune said this month.

Pat Cordova-Goff, 17, has been transitioning to a girl for several years, and is a student leader at Azusa High School. She said she tried out for the softball team because of AB 1266, since it said students can participate in athletic teams and competitions consistent with their gender identity.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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