BERKELEY -- Berkeley and Pacifica passed broad new policies protecting and accommodating transgender students Dec. 11, moving ahead of a similar state law that likely will face a voter referendum next November.
The policies passed by the two school districts with unanimous votes allow transgender students -- those born into one biological sex but who identify with the other -- broad protections against discrimination and accommodations that include the use of bathrooms, locker rooms, choice of team sports, dress and name changes.
The two cities join Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles in protecting gender identity, which the new Berkeley policy defines as "a person's internal, deeply-rooted identification as male or female."
"It's a huge step to come out in school as transgender," said Berkeley school board member Judy Appel. "It is very challenging in a school environment. This policy will provide concrete guidance."
Both school districts will now allow a student of one biological sex to use bathrooms and locker rooms of the other sex, require schools to accommodate students who change their names based on their gender identification, allow students of one biological sex to play on sports teams of the other and allow them to dress however they want.
Los Angeles has had such a policy since 2004.
"Our policy solves problems, it doesn't create them," said Judy Chiasson, coordinator of the Human Relations, Diversity and Equity Department at Los Angeles Unified School District.
"The fact of the matter is the majority of the time, people don't know the person is transgender. The policy means we recognize them by name and gender identity. They don't have to wear a sign. We don't stigmatize them. We do all we can to have them be part of the school community."
Berkeley and Pacifica's new policies mirror to some extent a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August that will apply to all school districts across the state. But that law, originally set to go into effect Jan. 1, will likely be suspended until voters decide its fate in November. A group opposed to it has gathered enough signatures to place it on the ballot, and counties are currently verifying those signatures.
"Because of the attacks this legislation is getting statewide, we felt it was important to move this policy quickly and get it in place," said Berkeley school board member Julie Sinai.
The Berkeley policy, approved Wednesday night by a 5-0 vote, says a school may not question a student's gender identity unless officials believe the student is using the change for an "improper purpose."
Both policies use the word "sincere" to describe the threshold a student must cross to invoke its protections.
At Berkeley High, the new policy simply puts practice into writing, said Felix Beaudry, a transgender senior who was born female but who now is legally male.
"When I came out as transgender in the middle of sophomore year, I was not excited about using the men's bathrooms because they are not nearly as clean as the women's, but I was much more afraid about what people would think or say," Beaudry said at the board meeting. "Had there been an argument over which bathroom I was allowed to use, I would have been humiliated and had would have had a more difficult time transitioning at school."
In Los Angeles, Chiasson said she knows of no abuse of the policy by any students trying to gain access to a locker room or bathrooms, or to compete on a sports team. She said there are usually two scenarios in which the policy is helpful. One is when the student is "very little and the parent tells us this kid is referred to as Dan" even though he is biologically female. The second is when students are older.
Beaudry's father, Peter Beaudry, told Berkeley board members he is grateful they passed the new policy.
"Bathrooms, locker rooms are hard for everyone," Beaudry said.
"For kids transitioning between genders, they are nearly impossible. I wish every high school in the U.S. had the courage to be like Berkeley High."
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.