Transgender bathroom debate heats up in California

FRESNO, California

On Sunday, a statewide coalition of groups called Privacy for All Students said it submitted 620,000 signatures to get a measure on the November 2014 ballot. That's far more than the 505,000 needed to qualify.

Tuesday morning, the Fresno County Clerk's Office said it received more than 18,500 signatures and is now working to verify whether they're valid. In the meantime, supporters of the law are defending the legislation which made California the first state to detail the rights of transgender youth.

"I experienced a lot of bullying a lot of harassment," said Fresno state Student Zoyer Zyndel, who also serves as Chair of Trans-E-Motion, a local advocacy and support group for the transgender community.

Zyndel said he had a tough time going through high school as a transgender teen in Clovis.

"Oh, it was terrible. It was terrible because I didn't feel included. I didn't feel wanted or supported by my school community, students and the administration alike."

He said he was picked on almost every day because he was born a female, but identified himself as a male. He was also forced to use facilities such as the campus bathroom and lockeroom based on the sex marked on his school records rather than the one he identified with.

He now supports California's Transgender or Bathroom Bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown back in September.

"Had this option been available when I was younger, it would have made a tremendous difference in my self-esteem and academic aptitude. I really feel I would have suffered from much less depression," he said.

Depression which he believes, contributes to high suicide rates among transgender youth.

I've read different reports. It's between 43 and 47 percent of our community who commit suicide or attempts to commit suicide," he added.

He believes the law, set to take effect January 1st, would reduce those numbers.

The law gives transgender kindergarten through 12th grade students the choice of playing on either boys or girls sports teams. It also allows them to choose which restroom they want to use, but not everyone agrees with the law.

Pastor Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church in Fresno said, "It's just a bad bill. It doesn't protect our students. We don't see anybody discriminated against or anybody hurt, but what this bill does is open up the door to hurt so many more students. It violates the privacy of those students."

Franklin was involved in the statewide effort to collect signatures to repeal the law. He said he worked closely with the primary architect behind the ballot battle, Republican Strategist Frank Shubert, the same guy who organized support for Proposition 8, the 2008 constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex couples from marriage in California.

Franklin also met with members of Shubert's group, Privacy for All Students, who reached out to socially conservative churches all over the state to gather signatures.

"What this bill will open the door to is that facilities can be used by any member of any sex. A father doesn't want to come home and find out their 12 year old girl has been in the same locker room as a 12 year old boy. That's just not right," he said.

On Sunday, organizers of a local drive to gather petitions delivered two boxes of signatures to the Fresno County Registrar's office. County clerk Brandi Orth said workers now have eight days to verify them and report back to the state.

"Once the state hears from all 17 counties (who accepted signatures), they'll add up the total and see if it meets the minimum required which is about 504,000," she said.

Now that it's a potential issue for the ballot, Zoyer Zyndel hopes voters will be educated before repealing a law he says protects students like himself.

"It's just to be able to go to the bathroom, that's it. It's very simple," he said. "And it really sends a message to the rest of the student population. If they see the administration doesn't respect our community, what motivation do they have to respect our community?"

Some Fresno County schools are already preparing for the new law to take effect in less than two months from now.

Fresno County Superintendent Jim Yovino said last week the County Office of Education held a session for superintendents and staff to go over the guidelines of Assembly Bill 1266. He also said some school districts, like Fresno Unified, have already begun reviewing its current policies to determine whether they need to be changed.

"This is about equity for all students," he said.

In a written statement to Action News, Fresno Unified Communications Manager Susan Bedi wrote, "Fresno Unified puts a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of all students. In light of the passage of this new legislation that goes into effect in January 2014, we are reviewing our current policies and will make adjustments where warranted to assure that we adhere to the new legislation."

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