The federal guidelines detailed Friday directing school districts on how to deal with transgender bathroom use were met with anger by a majority of Kern High School District officials, one of whom called it “massive government overreach.”
Guidelines issued jointly by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education suggest transgender students should be able to use whichever restroom they feel most closely matches their genders — and not necessarily what is on their birth certificates.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
Similar guidelines have been in place in California since 2013, when legislators passed AB 1266.
Despite that, some Kern High School District trustees told The Californian that if the time comes, they would fight enforcement of the state law and new federal guidelines. They represent the largest high school district in the state.
“I have no intention of complying with this law that's harmful to these children,” said KHSD Trustee Chad Vegas, who is also a pastor. “I would never enforce this law that California has given. I will do everything in my power to fight letting males walk into our girls restrooms or girls showers or girls locker rooms or play on a girls team.”
When asked about transgender bathroom use being a civil rights issue, Vegas said it was “stupid” and “laughable on its face.”
Friday’s guidelines state they carry no legal weight, but in a statement released to schools federal officials linked transgender bathroom use to Title IX funding. Schools receive that federal money on the condition that they not discriminate against students.
KHSD Board President Mike Williams, who opposes the guidelines, called the federal funding component “blackmail and classless” and said the threat of pulling federal funding from schools wouldn't change his vote on a “moral issue” like transgender bathroom use.
“If the State of California wants to force it down us, well, we're always going to obey the law, but my vote can't be forced by law,” Williams said, referring to enforcing the California legislation already in place. “It's not that we will disobey, and I am certain my fellow colleague is not saying that he'd break the law, he just won't give a yes vote to something he's morally opposed to, and I'd agree with him on that stance.”
But transgender bathroom use has not been an issue in the Kern High School District, trustees and district officials said. They've not heard of any transgender students coming forward with issues.
Multiple advisers to various Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs at district schools confirmed that discrimination against transgenders is scant here.
“We have a (transgender) population, and our campus tends to be very accepting, very tolerant and very open,” said Karin Olson, a Foothill High teacher and former adviser to the Gay-Straight Alliance student club on campus. “It was surprisingly baffling when I thought about it that we don't have an issue on our campus.”
Olson added, however, that if district trustees challenged the state transgender bathroom law, they “would be up against some backlash.”
The guidelines come just weeks after North Carolina legislators passed a bill barring transgender people from using restrooms that don't match their biological genders. The legislation, and lawsuits filed in response, have been heaping national attention on the political and social topic.
But the absence of any transgender bathroom issues at KHSD, Trustee Jeff Flores said, lends credence to the notion that the federal government is creating an issue where one does not exist.
“It seems like the president is inserting and making it an issue where there doesn't need to be. It's federal overreach,” Flores said. “I think our district should reserve the right to entertain all options to oppose that legislation.”
Flores added that he wouldn't be opposed to making private unisex restrooms available for students who are not comfortable using gender-specific bathrooms.
So far, the district has been handling transgender issues on a case-by-case basis and not encountered problems, Williams said.
Kern County Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier said the new guidelines would not change anything locally.
“Our schools have handled transgender accommodations on a case-by-case basis — even prior to the law being enacted — to ensure access to rights, while maintaining privacy and safety for all students,” Frazier said.