I got the news at the beginning of summer. The school my sons had gone to for the past five years was closing. With sadness, I needed to find them a new private school. I checked out the local public elementary school, and found to my pleasant surprise that it had a lot to offer my ten- and eleven-year-old sons. It was worth considering.
At the same time, the California Legislature was busy with an adventure of their own. Assembly member Tom Ammiano and co-author Senator Mark Leno introduced and passed the School Success and Opportunity Act. The act looks out for the small percentage of students in the system who are transgender. It rules that “a pupil be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”
The bill’s authors explained, “Although current California law already protects students from discrimination in education based on sex and gender identity, many school districts do not understand and are not presently in compliance with their obligations to treat transgender students the same as all other students in the specific areas addressed by this bill. As a result, some school districts are excluding transgender students from sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities. Other school districts struggle to deal with these issues on an ad hoc basis. Current law is deficient in that it does not provide specific guidance about how to apply the mandate of non-discrimination in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities.”
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. California dad, assemblyman Tim Donnelly not only voted against the law, he is pulling at least one of his sons out of the public school system because of its enactment. In an editorial he states, “My 13- and 16-year-old boys were horrified at the idea of sharing a bathroom and locker room with a member of the opposite sex, after having discussed AB 1266 with them.”
I had a similar discussion with my sons. Check that. Not similar, on the same topic. Rather than present the situation to my sons in the horrific genitals-on-display terms that Mr. Donnelly apparently did, I discussed the challenge that transgender students face. “Their brains and hearts tell them they are one gender, but everyone sees them as the opposite gender,” I explained. The boys immediately described a friend of theirs that seems to be exactly that way. I continued. “Our state just passed a new law that allows these students to decide for themselves who they are, and to do the activities that feel right for them.”
“Great!” Jesse declared in his it’s-all-solved kind of way.
“So . . . you are okay with them using the same bathroom as you?” I asked, treading into dangerous territory.
“Hmm. Well, that is one part that would be kind of weird,” he mused, thinking about his friend.
“Awkward!” his brother, Jason, piped up. “They told us that only boys should see each other’s privates. Those are the rules.”
“They actually are boys, even if you don’t think they look like they are. The law makes the actual rules, and frankly, I am not sure anyone should be looking at anyone’s privates at all,” I suggested. “You are in the next stall behind a sheet of metal. You aren’t seeing them.” I thought back to my college days of using a dorm’s co-ed bathroom facilities that contained stalls and private shower cubicles. I had been impressed by how inconsequential it all was.
“Yeah,” Jesse agreed after a moment of reflection. “It would be different, but no big deal.” Jason nodded in agreement and turned back to his dinner. End of discussion . . . no horror, no trauma. Later the boys brought up their friend again.
“It would be so cool for her to do what . . .” Jesse’s voice trailed off as he corrected himself, “do what he wanted to do,” he finished.
Having walked through such a discussion firsthand, I can only speculate as to what the Donnelly family version must have been like. If it was anything like the assemblyman’s presentation in the media, or reflective of the sarcastic mock hysterics on Fox News, it was filled with sensationalist talk of opportunistic, exhibitionistic heterosexuals, ogled genitals, and lots of communal bathroom functions.
Those arguments do nothing to make me fear respecting my transgender neighbor. However, they do give me pause about being caught alone in a bathroom with an anti-gay Republican. I am going to wonder exactly what he’s looking at in there.
Here is the bottom line (pardon the expression). Donnelly is pulling one of his sons out of the system over fear of his coming in contact with a transgender student. I am going to put two sons into the system in celebration of the dignity it affords them and a friend they care about.
Here is my open note to the assemblyman:
Yes, Mr. Donnelly, I see your bet and double you. You take out one student; I am putting in two.
I am thrilled to have my kids in a system that does not allow children to be traumatized by anti-gay “therapy,” that teaches them about LGBT contributions in history, and that allows their fellow students dignity. That is reflective of the world I want them to know, and the world I want them to lead.
The public outcry that you and Fox News are trying to stir up is as irresponsible and unwarranted as the discomfort and humiliation you are attempting to instill in your own sons.
The Los Angeles Unified School District adopted this policy in 2004 and has run it without outcry. Mischievous heterosexuals are not permitted to play pretend transgender so they can shower with the opposite sex, as several conservative pundits have stated they themselves might be inclined to do. The California Interscholastic Federation has guidelines in which students or their parents “must contact the school administrator or athletic director indicating that the pupil has a consistent gender identity different than the gender listed on the pupil’s school registration records, and that the student desires to participate in activities in a manner consistent with his/her gender identity.” The school considers the case and sets a course of action consistent with the Los Angeles Unified School District guidelines, “Where available, a ‘gender neutral’ restroom may be used by any student who desires increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason . . . Schools may provide a student access to a locker room facility . . . considering the available accommodation and the needs and privacy concerns of all students involved.”
I want to inspire my kids to strive for the principles of dignity, privacy, and the excellence that all individuals have the right to develop within themselves. You seem interested only in having yours scurry off in search of a fig leaf.
Am I concerned about putting my sons in the public school system that you and your party have worked to underfund? Yes. I worry about my sons dealing with the larger class sizes, the potential for bullying, reduced access to the arts, and being trained to score high on tests rather than really learn. I will be vigilant on all those issues, I can promise you.
I will not, however, lose sleep over their transgender friend whom they adore and who might use the same restroom they do. I will not conjure up fears in my children over situations where they have an opportunity to appropriately expand their comfort zone and embrace others different from themselves. I will not turn my back on a smaller population who faces enormous demoralization and abuse at the hands of an arrogant majority, all for the sake of feigned modesty and heterosexual lust.
Neither should you. Your choice to sensationalize this issue with your sons and scare them from wanting to attend their schools is a disappointment, in my opinion. That you seek to undermine our state’s school system, one which you think yourself qualified to lead as our governor after the next election, is irresponsible. That you ignore the welfare of a minority of students, and propose that ostracizing them is a benefit to the majority, is unconscionable.
Something stinks here, and it is not the bathrooms or locker rooms you decry, it is your lack of integrity.
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Special thanks to Rachel Hockett for editing help on this article.
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What an awesome Dad you are! Your boys are truly blessed to have such an intelligent, thoughtful, wonderful human being as their father. Their responses to your discussion on the topic speaks to that! Way to go on the letter as well.
We saw this excellent blog post and would like to explore the possibility of turning it into an op ed with you. Hit me up at my email if you’re interested.
Hi Josh- Yes, I would be interested. I sent a note through the “Contact” form– I don’t know if that is the best way to reach you. You can also contact me through the messages on our evol equals Facebook page (link at the bottom of the story above).
So why do we even need separate bathrooms? On my trip to Italy, most restaurants have a single bathroom with multiple stalls and sinks for everyone. It conserves space, and not once did anything become “scandalous”. Most people don’t realize how full of themselves they are when they worry about peepers in the bathroom.
i’ve never been to italy, but i’ve been saying the same thing for years.
The way I see it is this way. In 99.99% of most human there is a distinct difference in male and female anatomy. This stuff about transgender bathrooms is ridiculous (unless one person at a time is allowed to be in the bathroom). When it comes to showering there still ought to be a boy’s bathroom with stalls and a separate girls bathroom with shower stalls. I think this verbiage in the law needs to be cleaned up. Respect sexual orientation, but do not have shower stalls or large public bathrooms for both sexes. I think this California law needs another review and debate.
Excuse me, but this isn’t about sexual orientation. This is about gender identity. While transgender persons may physically appear as one gender, they may not be. This is about allowing a 15 year old girl who happens to have been born a boy to go play sports with the other girls.
This is about letting a 12 year old boy who was born a girl use the boy’s bathroom /because he’s a boy/.
This is about letting the person who was born intersexed choose their gender identity for themselves, rather than being told they’ll be a girl because their genitals aren’t quite defined enough to be ‘male’.
It has nothing to do with sexual orientation. I’ve known transgender men who are into other men, and are gay for that reason. I’ve known transgender women who are only into men… and they’re straight for that reason, and vice versa.
Sexual orientation is about who you want to boff, not who you identify as.
With all of that said… Why do we need public showers and locker rooms in the first place? Is it so hard to build changing rooms and shower stalls and toilet stalls? I don’t feel comfortable being nude around a group of strangers, let alone using the bathroom in front of them.
There’s no reason to force children to be naked in front of each other, and if there’s no reason for them to be naked, what’s between their legs won’t matter.
Well said Chris–thanks!
So damned right you are…
These jerkwads want to sexualize everything, and all the while screaming and shouting about how sex is evil and wrong… They need to be put back where they belong, the dark ages… I mean, seriously? What about the boys who like boys, or the girls who like girls, where would these damned idiots want to force them to go? If they had their way, there would be straight facilities, for both genders, gay facilities, again, for both genders, ones for trans, intersex, bisexual, and need I go on?!?
The whole thing just SMACKS of “separate but ‘equal'” all over again, and GAWD forbid how much it would COST BUSINESSES to comply with that insanity!!! (And you just have to know that some assholes would only make “straight bathrooms” and try to refuse people who didn’t have a “straight card” or some shit)
THE BEST way to deal with all this nonsense, would be to just start making everything gender neutral, with stalls! Floor to roof! No peeping possible, just go in, do what you need to do, get done and out! If they don’t like it, they can find some backwards business that caters to their freakish desire to “keep out the freaks.”
The fact that we need a LAW for this is heart breaking. Will this society ever come out of the dark ages? People are people.
You seem like the best dad a kid could ever ask for 🙂
Thank you for being you ❤
Good for you! I’m proud to say my daughter doesn’t even understand what all the fuss is about. What the hell difference does it make which flavour of the rainbow we are?
Inspiring and right on target! Your well-thought-out response to the assemblyman raises excellent points.
What a great article. Thanks for putting it in such human terms.
As always a thoughtful and well written piece. Kids for the most part are much more tolerant than we give them credit for and there is always the private bathroom in the nurses office or the stalls which I assume are still private for shitting. If not that is wrong as well as I don’t want to see or hear grunting from either gender. A great job, Rob.
You are such a good father and human being. May all fathers of all backgrounds embrace your philosophies!