Pacific Justice Institute attorney Matthew McReynolds
Despite Failed Repeal Effort, Transphobic Calif. Coalition Still Fighting

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com February 25 2014 2:06 PM ET

Yesterday the California Secretary of State's office announced that an effort to put a measure to repeal the state's School Success and Opportunity Act on the November ballot had failed, as the law's opponents failed to turn in the 504,760 valid signatures needed to put the law to a public vote.

The first-of-its-kind law is designed to provide transgender students with the same rights and protections as their cisgender (nontrans) counterparts, guaranteeing access to school sports teams and gender-segregated facilities that correspond with the student's gender identity. In the nearly two months since the law took effect January 1, the act, also known as Assembly Bill 1266, has brought about a number of heartwarming stories, including Pat Cordova-Goff's push to resume playing high school sports.

After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law last August, a coalition of anti-LGBT groups, including the National Organization for Marriage and Pacific Justice Institute, launched an effort to repeal the law through a ballot initiative. Following months of organizing and reportedly turning in more than 620,000 signatures of registered voters who wanted to put the issue on the ballot, the coalition — deceptively called Privacy for All Students — fell more than 17,000 valid signatures short of the total needed to qualify for the ballot.

But the Pacific Justice Institute says it doesn't accept the secretary of state's determination that nearly 20,000 signatures collected either did not belong to voters registered in the district where they signed or were duplicates of signatures already counted. The institute is preparing to challenge the secretary's dismissal of those signatures, the group tells The Advocate exclusively.

"While we certainly would have preferred a higher signature validation rate of our petitions by elections officials, the referendum process continues," PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds says in a statement. "Under state law, we now have 21 days to review the explanations given as to why signatures were invalidated, and we will then have the option of going to court. We do not believe that more than 130,000 of the referendum signatures were truly invalid, and we think it is very likely that a court will eventually agree that a sufficient number of those invalidated signatures were in ‘substantial compliance’ with state law to place this issue on the November ballot. The Secretary of State has already attempted to disenfranchise voters on this issue, and was ordered by a court to count signatures that she had originally excluded, so this is far from over."

Proponents of the law celebrated yesterday's news, but vowed to stay vigilant in light of transphobic activists hoping to strike down the law.

"We’re confident that our opponents will always find people to attack for fundraising purposes," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells The Advocate. "We’re also confident that any legal challenge to the vote count will come up short, just as they came up short on qualifying the law for the ballot. Common sense will trump misleading attempts to deny transgender students their fair shot at a quality education. In California and across the United States, Americans agree that who they are shouldn’t get in the way of succeeding in school.”

Michael Silverman, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, agreed with Keisling.

"The School Success and Opportunity Act ensures that all kids in California have a fair chance to thrive in school," he tells The Advocate. "California voters support the law, and that's why they stayed away from the misguided push to repeal the act. That attempt has failed, and at this point it is disappointing to see ongoing efforts to hurt transgender kids who just want a chance to succeed in school.  Affording transgender students the ability to participate in sports teams and other activities consistent with who they are is crucial to their well being and personal development, and we are confident that fair-minded Californians will continue to support the act."

Support All Students, a coalition made up of nearly 100 state and national organizations, including Equality California, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, American Civil Liberties Union of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, Gender Spectrum, and a number of other LGBT, racial justice, and teacher and parent organizations, released a joint statement, lauding the efforts of those who worked tirelessly to combat a disinformation campaign.

"This law gives schools the guidelines and flexibility to create an environment where all kids have the opportunity to learn," writes Support All Students campaign chair Masen Davis. "We need to focus on creating an environment where every student is able to do well and graduate. This law is about doing what’s best for all students — that’s why it’s supported by school boards, teachers, and the PTA."

Contributor: 
Parker Marie Molloy