Religious Groups Challenge Calif. Transgender Law Over Privacy Opponents of a new California law that aims to accommodate transgender students say they've gathered enough signatures to try to overturn it on next year's ballot. The law allows transgender students to use the bathrooms and join the sports teams that match their gender identity.
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Religious Groups Challenge Calif. Transgender Law Over Privacy

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Religious Groups Challenge Calif. Transgender Law Over Privacy


And let's hear about a new law that applies to schools in California. It's set to go into effect next year and it would expand the rights of transgender students. They'll be allowed to use the restrooms and participate on the sports teams of their gender identity rather than their biological sex. But some churches and religious groups say the law is a threat to students' privacy and they are trying to overturn it. Aaron Schrank reports.

AARON SCHRANK, BYLINE: At Azusa High School in Southern California, Pat Cordova-Goff has just finished class and is heading to a student government meeting. She's student body president, a varsity cheerleader, homecoming princess, and a straight A-senior. She's here a lot.

PAT CORDOVA-GOFF: Because I am so involved with everything, I come here around 6:50.

SCHRANK: And she leaves sometimes more than 12 hours later.

CORDOVA-GOFF: Yeah. Yeah, it's a lot of time.

SCHRANK: But Cordova-Goff isn't always comfortable at school. She's Azusa High's only openly transgender student. And when she's here, she tries to avoid using the bathroom altogether.

CORDOVA-GOFF: If I were to go to the boys' restroom, you know, like there's a chance I might be bullied, hurt, even harassed. But if I go to the girls, it's kind of not allowed and I'll get in trouble, so it's kind of like I have nowhere to go.

SCHRANK: Under California's new law, Cordova-Goff's school would be required to allow her to use the girls' bathroom. And it's precisely this bathroom policy that has riled opponents.

JUDI MCDANIELS: That is so confusing. And so it opens the door for predators.

SCHRANK: That's Judi McDaniels, a mother and grandmother who went door-to-door in the LA suburb of Chino Hills petitioning for signatures to repeal the law. The School Success and Opportunity Act is its official name, but McDaniels and other critics call it the Co-Ed Bathroom Bill. She says it will send a mixed message to kids whose parents have told them to value privacy.

MCDANIELS: Now we're telling them you're a young man and there may be a girl in your bathroom, but that's OK.

SCHRANK: The campaign to repeal the law calls itself Privacy for All Students. With help from hundreds of churches and some of the same groups that fought gay marriage in California, they gathered more than 600,000 signatures in just a few months. Those are still being verified. They need just over 500,000 valid signatures.

A big part of this campaign was centered at McDaniels' church, Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, led by founder and Senior Pastor Jack Hibbs.

JACK HIBBS: Forty-six thousand one hundred and twenty-seven signatures were gathered by these people here at this church.

SCHRANK: Hibbs says his duty as a pastor and as a parent is to shield children from discomfort and danger.

HIBBS: And I want to be very clear. Those who are struggling with their identity, that's not evil. But I have to protect those that would be offended by this.

SCHRANK: Hibbs is also concerned that the law is too vague and that teenage boys could use it to sneak into girls' bathrooms.

HIBBS: Maybe a couple of guys bet him, hey, pretend you're a girl today, go on in there, take a peek. A child whose hormones at 13, 14, 15 are raging and we expect them to be civil? We're asking kids to be more adult about their body parts than we adults are.

JUDY CHIASSON: We do not arbitrarily let students decide that they're going to be girls for fifth period only.

SCHRANK: That's Judy Chiasson with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

CHIASSON: A transgender student is somebody who consistently, every day, all day long, wants to be recognized by their gender of identity.

SCHRANK: Chiasson helped craft the policy in her district that protects gender identity. It's a model for what's required under California's new law. It's been in place since 2005 and Chiasson says there have been no cases of misconduct.

CHIASSON: If somebody is worried about safety in the bathroom or appropriate behavior in the bathroom, I think that looking to our transgender children as the possible risk is very misdirected. If anything, they're going to be the target of misconduct, not the perpetrator.

SCHRANK: The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 78 percent of transgender kids in K-12 said they'd been harassed based on their gender identity. Sometimes that discrimination is subtle, something Pat Cordova-Goff says has come to expect at her school in Azusa. For example, this year she asked her cheerleading coach for a custom outfit - men's pants with a women's top. When Cordova-Goff was handed a standard male uniform, she was crushed.

CORDOVA-GOFF: I think in high school, where we're all supposed to find ourselves, it's pretty hard to find yourself when the person you've found is not the person society lets you be.

SCHRANK: Backers of the California law argue that it simply lays out for school districts how existing state and federal non-discrimination laws already require them to treat their transgender students. It's set to go into effect on January 1st, but if the signature efforts prove to be enough, it will be put on hold until a statewide referendum next November.

For NPR News, I'm Aaron Schrank.

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