Op-ed: Don't Let My Son Lose His Right to a Fair Education

A groundbreaking law to protect transgender students in schools is already under attack.

BY Catherine Lee

October 14 2013 3:00 AM ET

No parent ever wants his or her children to be mistreated or hurt by anyone, especially by those who want to block their opportunities and success.

But over the last few years, I’ve often felt powerless in my struggle to help my son navigate through a system that hasn’t always been fully supportive of who he is — an ambitious, extremely bright, friendly, and outgoing young transgender man.

When I learned that California governor Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act into law August 12, I was overwhelmed. For the first time, my 16-year-old Ashton will be able to fully participate in his Manteca, Calif., high school under the new law that ensures that school administrators know their requirements to treat all students equally.

The new law ensures that my son and others like him have a fair opportunity to succeed in school and to participate in all school-sponsored programs and activities on an equal basis with other students. A similar policy has been working successfully for years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where district leaders have seen students excel when they can participate in school as themselves without fear of shame and stigma. This law means so much to me and other parents of transgender students, and it will make our children’s lives and future prospects so much safer and brighter.

Sadly, however, almost immediately after Governor Brown signed this important new law, it came under a vicious attack from an extreme fringe group that has repeatedly opposed legal protections for LGBT people and families, and women, in the past. This organization, the Capitol Resource Institute, has a documented record of purposefully spreading misinformation to the public. Now the group is at it again, spreading lies and misinformation about the new law and launching a horrific campaign to demonize transgender children. This is despicable. As the parent of a transgender child, I feel a deep responsibility to speak out against these appalling and hateful tactics.

In addition to propagating hatred against a group of vulnerable children, the institute is also violating the law . My son and I recently filed a complaint with the California attorney general’s office after learning that the institute is soliciting donations as a tax-exempt organization even though the IRS revoked its tax-exempt status months ago for failing to submit proper financial information for three years.

California is a diverse state with a deep commitment to supporting all young people and giving them an equal chance to succeed. We have made so much progress toward healing the bitter wounds that were created by the Proposition 8 campaign, and now we are moving forward together toward a new day. Especially at this moment of new unity and hope, there is no place in our state for groups that deliberately seek to spread hatred and fear — and that deceive the public even about their own tax status. Make no mistake, the Capitol Resource Institute’s campaign to overturn the new law is not only mean-spirited, it is dangerous. By fomenting a climate in which differences are seen as threatening, the institute is putting all of our children at risk.

In the weeks ahead, I hope you will stand with me and my son and the many other families who are determined to keep our state moving forward in a positive direction. All children deserve inclusion and support — and a chance to succeed.  Let’s stand together and create a better future for all the young people in this state.   

CATHERINE LEE resides in Manteca, Calif., with her son, Ashton.

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