Kane Atticus Tajnai lived as Kathyrn Amanda for 16 years before he came out to his family as a transgender teen. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang shows how a California bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown is helping transgender teens like Kane have equal rights at school.
Kane Atticus Tajnai lived as Kathryn Amanda for 16 years before coming out to his family as a transgender teen.
Kane, now a senior at Gunderson High School in San Jose, said he never felt completely comfortable – not just with being identified as a girl, but about labels in general. For Kane, the labels on the bathroom doors at school were some of the hardest to face. He wanted to go into the boys’ room, but felt obligated to go into the girls’ bathroom.
So he tried not to go at all.
“I kind of fell into this habit of going to the bathroom before I went to school, and very little throughout the day," he said.
That, coupled with not being able to use the boys’ locker room nor join the boys’ sports teams, said Kane, weighed heavily on him. He said it got so bad, he thought of taking his own life during his sophomore and junior years.
“I hated everything. I didn’t want to do anything. I had nights where I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up ever again,” Kane recalled. “I always wished that I had the courage to do something to take my life because it was just so hard to think that the next day I'd have to get up.”
But in March, Kane decided to come out to his friends and family. He wanted to change his name from Katie to Kane, and for his loved ones to use “him” and “he.” And then this school year, Kane decided to come out to his school administrators. He credits AB 1266 – the California bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September – which affords transgender students the right to choose which bathroom, locker room and sports teams they want to use and join.
“After AB 1266 passed, I said if I were to come out at school, I’d be protected," he said.
But the people behind one campaign titled “Privacy for All Students” are promising to pass a referendum and freeze the law, set to go into effect Jan.1, 2014, and put the issue on the November 2014 ballot. The Capitol Resource Institute, which supported Prop 8, is one of the groups taking part in the initiative.
“If I’m a girl in junior high in the restroom, I don’t want a boy coming into my restroom,” said Karen England, the institute's executive director. “I don’t think most parents want the opposite gender into their children’s restrooms locker rooms and showers.”
The group had 90 days to collect at least 505,000 signatures to qualify for the referendum. England said the group surpassed that, collecting at least 620,000 of them, submitted to all 58 counties. Those counties still have to verify the signatures.
One of the people dedicated to the effort has been Grace LeFever, a 17-year-old whose father is on the Capitol Resource Institute board. She said she’s home-schooled, but has plenty of friends who’d be impacted by the law.
“It’s a very dangerous law actually because there are no safety precautions really set,” said LeFever. “So a boy can say today I feel like a girl, so I’m going to follow that girl into the bathroom.”
England also said that current California law already mandates school districts must accommodate all students, including those who identify as transgender. But AB 1266 supporters like Geoff Kors, senior legislative and policy strategist for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said there’s too much uncertainty and allowing school districts to interpret the law has deprived transgender students of their rights.
“A lot of school districts somehow will read non-discrimination not to include this,so we wanted it to be really clear,” said Kors, who added the objective was to avoid litigation. “For a 12-year-old, three years of middle school while you’re litigating and being denied the opportunity to succeed is a huge deal that they’ll never get back.”
Kors also pointed to two of the state’s largest school districts: Los Angeles and San Francisco Unified, which have had policies in place similar to those outlined in AB 1266. LAUSD has a policy that states, “students shall have access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity asserted at school,” SFUSD also has one similar. Regarding locker rooms, both also have similar policies. SFUSD’s states “transgender students shall not be forced to use the locker room corresponding to their gender assigned at birth.”
And Kors said, neither school district has any substantiated report of harassment, violence or privacy problems. England countered that school districts have not been fully transparent about such reports.
She also said that she and her group are concerned for all students, including transgender students like Kane.
“It’s unfortunate this child was in a school that wasn’t accommodating this student because current law does mandate they accommodate them,” she said. “But it also doesn’t give him or her the right – depending on who the student is – to invade everyone else’s privacy.”
As for Kane, changing in the boys’ locker room and using the boys’ bathroom at school has not resulted in any problems.
He believes this new law has the power to save lives. He remembers his worst nights, feeling desperate and alone, and though he sometimes still has emotional struggles, he feels much freer – a feeling he hopes others in his shoes can also experience. With that, he had a question for the opponents of AB 1266.
“Don’t I deserve the same safety at school and same comfort level at school, that all the other students do?” he said.