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Though it may not directly affect universities, a new law for K-12 schools will promote equality for transgender students.


Kayla Missman

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Transgender students are protected by nondiscrimination policies, but they don’t have enough support to feel safe, according to the Cal Poly Pride Center.

“My understanding is that there’s a system saying we aren’t going to discriminate against students, but whether or not we actually have policies at Cal Poly that make transgender students feel safe is an entirely different issue,” said Bryan Pride, a graduate assistant for the Pride Center. “And if you don’t feel safe in your learning environment, how are you going to learn?”

Following the enactment of a recent law affecting K-12 schools in California, there might be a push for transgender student support at Cal Poly. Though faculty and administrators know about the university’s nondiscrimination policies, Pride said, students probably don’t.

The K-12 law, called the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), allows transgender students in K-12 schools to use whichever sex-segregated facilities, join whichever sports and participate in activities that match up with their personal gender identity.

One reason AB 1266 was implemented was because people weren’t previously aware of nondiscrimination policies, said Carlos Alcala, communications director for State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the bill’s co-sponsor.

“Nondiscrimination is state and federal law,” Alcala said. “Not everybody knows that, and that’s part of the reason we came up with 1266. Although we felt discrimination was written in, people didn’t know about it.”

College students might not know about the nondiscrimination policies, but there isn’t much politicians can do right now for the California State University (CSU) system, Alcala said.

AB 1266 clarified an existing exemption; K-12 schools were covered by nondiscrimination policies, but there was a section in state law that exempted sex-segregated facilities and activities, he said. The act clarified and expanded the existing law to include those sections.

AB 1266 wouldn’t be relevant on a college campus because the CSU system doesn’t have those exemptions.

“(The exemptions) aren’t currently set aside in law for colleges, so all we’d be able to do is repeat that there is no discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” Alcala said.

Civil rights movements have been successful time and time again, but they aren’t an easy process. In order to accomplish something, these kinds of issues often have to go to court, Alcala said.

“What we’ve seen in other civil rights movements is the establishment that these are constitutional rights, these are legal rights of nondiscrimination,” Alcala said. “And the way it’s historically been enforced is by suing where those rights are not protected.”

But for Pride, taking legal action means it’s too late.

“I think that we’ve seen a lot of nondiscrimination policies come in lawsuits, but they’re retroactive,” Pride said. “An atrocity was committed, so we’re punishing someone so that atrocity doesn’t happen again. But why do we have to wait for a student to become a victim in a restroom before we start changing things?”

Though the act itself might not be applicable on CSU campuses, it provides hope. Its implementation might lead to clearer, more enforceable policies regarding transgender students on a college campus, Pride said.

Adam Serafin, an assistant coordinator for the Cross Cultural Centers who works with the Pride Center, agreed.

“Doing the K-12 thing would be a huge step,” Serafin said. “I could see it potentially being a springboard for public universities and colleges to do something similar.”

Elizabeth Chapin, administrative support coordinator for CSU public affairs, declined to comment on whether a law clarifying nondiscrimination policies is being considered for the CSU system.

Though there have been changes, misconceptions about the transgender community might cause students to be hesitant about different policies at Cal Poly, Serafin said.

“People are starting to learn more about the trans community, starting to look at gender a little bit differently,” he said. “I don’t know how Cal Poly would react, but as with everything else, it would take some time for everybody to understand it and be comfortable with it.”

For now, the focus is on making transgender students feel safe. One way to do that is by implementing more gender-neutral, or single-stalled, restrooms, Pride said.

“We have a couple trans-identified students who just don’t use restrooms when they’re at school,” Pride said.

Having more single-stalled restrooms wouldn’t really affect students outside the transgender community, Pride said, but it would make transgender students feel more safe.

“When you’re somebody who is just coming out, and you’re in a new place, a new school or something, the first thing that you’re doing is trying to figure out where you’re going to feel safe, and where you’re going to feel accepted,” Pride said. “And restrooms are a huge thing on that. Not because it’s something social, but because of the fear of going to the bathroom. The single-stalled restrooms help prevent that fear.”

The Pride Center’s website lists every single-stalled restroom on campus, but it’s a work in progress, Pride said. Some of those restrooms are locked all the time, which means they aren’t accessible.

There was an expectation that there were going to be multiple single-stalled restrooms in the new Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics, Pride and Serafin said, but there is only one.

“Do I think that there should be more single-stalled restrooms, or gender-nonconforming restrooms, on campus? Absolutely,” Pride said. “Do I think that one gender-nonconforming restroom in one building is saying that Cal Poly is inclusive? No, I don’t.”

But Director of Facilities Planning and Capital Projects Joel Neel said he hasn’t seen a push for unisex bathrooms. To his knowledge, there weren’t requests for more than one unisex bathroom in the Baker Center.

“I think it’s definitely an issue that is ready for students to revisit, but it needs to have a student interest behind it,” Serafin said.

There also may be resistance about transgender students joining fraternities or sororities that match their gender identity or participating in clubs or sports, Pride said.

Another change that could accommodate transgender students would be adding more co-ed housing, he said, but gender neutrality could take shape in several different ways.

“I think we are seeing more trans students on campus, students who are out as trans and open,” Serafin said. “So I think it’s becoming more trans-inclusive, both in University Housing and other campus facilities. I think it’s really important.”

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