SACRAMENTO -- Transgender students in public schools can participate in school activities and use school facilities that conform to their gender identity under a bill that passed the Senate Wednesday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill, AB1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, had the bare majority, passing 21-9 on a partisan vote with Democrats in support.
"There should be certainty that every kid has the chance to go to school and be treated equally and fairly," said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who presented the bill on the Senate floor. "We know that these particular kids suffer much abuse and bullying and denigration."
Backers of the bill have noted that current California law already prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, but they said many school districts in the state don't comply with that.
The Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts have had such policies in place for many years, ensuring access to restrooms, locker rooms or sports teams that align with the identity of transgender students.
Opponents raised many concerns, with state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County), calling it an "extraordinarily consequential piece of legislation" that he said many parents and students would be reticent to accept.
He said students "now may be subjected to some very difficult situations and their parents to even more objectionable situations. It is not, ladies and gentlemen, a simple bill. It is a landmark bill for California."
Other Republican senators wondered about students who might take advantage of the law to participate on an opposite-sex sports team, and how the California Interscholastic Federation would handle such a situation.
The federation, which oversees high school athletics in California, has a policy that is in line with the bill for transgender students who want to play on teams that conform with their gender identity.
Shannon Minter, the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the bill's passage "wonderful."
"I think it's past time," said Minter, who is transgender. "California needs to catch up with other states and our transgender students need this protection and the schools need the guidance."
Wyatt Buchanan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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