Despite the efforts of anti-transgender groups, a referendum on a law allowing California students to participate in student activities in accordance with their gender identity won’t appear before state voters in 2014.
On Monday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced via Twitter that the signature check on the referendum for the law, known as the School Success & Opportunity Act, didn’t yield enough valid signatures to place the measure on the state ballot. A spokesperson for the office confirmed for the Blade the measure failed to qualify.
After a signature-check process that lasted months, state officials found opponents of the law submitted 487,484 valid names — which is 17,276 short of the necessary 504,760 names to qualify. They submitted 619,387 names, but 131,903 were deemed invalid.
The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 13, requires California public schools to respect students’ gender identity and ensures transgender students have access to school activities, facilities and sports teams in accordance with their gender identity. But critics say it violates the rights of students who may feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with someone of a different biological sex.
LGBT advocates responded to the news by saying the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, ensures all students, including those who are transgender, can do well in school.
Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said the law fosters a positive environment for students in California schools.
“This law gives schools the guidelines and flexibility to create an environment where all kids have the opportunity to learn,” Davis said. “We need to focus on creating an environment where every student is able to do well and graduate. This law is about doing what’s best for all students — that’s why it’s supported by school boards, teachers, and the PTA.”
The Transgender Law Center is part of a coalition known as the Support All Students campaign, which consists of nearly 100 state and national organizations including Equality California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Gender Spectrum.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the failure of the referendum to qualify for the ballot reflects the growing support for transgender rights.
“The forces of discrimination tried to go after California’s LGBT young people, and it’s a sign of our progress that they fell short of their goal,” Griffin said. “Yet unfortunately there are groups out there that are actively working to make the lives of LGBT youth harder. This law does nothing more than safeguard transgender students from being excluded and ensures all students are provided the same opportunities – regardless of gender identity.”
The lack of insufficient valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot isn’t surprising. John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, predicted in November that it was “unlikely, [but] it’s not impossible” for the measure to qualify given the signature validation rate at that point.
Enough signatures deemed valid last month after a randomized spot-check was conducted to trigger a full count of all of the signatures acquired in the 58 counties. But, as revealed on Monday, the full count revealed the anti-trans campaign had failed to gather enough names to put the issue up for referendum.
Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, nonetheless vowed in a statement to continue the fight against the trans student law through other means.
“Make no mistake, Pacific Justice Institute is committed to protecting the privacy of children,” Dacus said. “We are ready to review and challenge every signature that was not counted towards the referendum of this impudent and in-your-face bill. Our children’s privacy is worth doing all that we can.”
The statement says the Privacy for All Students, the coalition behind the referendum effort, has a right to review and appeal to the courts each of the around 131,000 signatures that were rejected. Additionally, the organization “to defend any child who has their privacy rights violated” because of the trans law.
It’s also still possible for opponents of the law to repeal it through a separate ballot initiative process different from the referendum process. But the deadline has passed for such a measure to qualify for the 2014 ballot, so the soonest that would be is 2016. A statutory ballot initiative would require 504,760 signatures to qualify for the ballot; a constitutional amendment would require 807,615 names.
Erik Olvera, spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the odds aren’t favorable for path anti-trans groups have to strip the student law from the books.
“They would have to do an initiative or go to the legislature — both very hard,” Olvera said.