Christie signs bill to create bathroom, other rights for transgender students

TRENTON — Transgender students at New Jersey’s public schools were given new layers of protection under a bill that Gov. Chris Christie signed into law Friday.

The legislation (S3067/A4652) — which takes effect immediately — charges the state commissioner of education with creating specific guidelines to help schools address “the needs” of transgender students and establish policies that “ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment” for those students. 

Schools would be expressly told that they cannot force transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that conflict with their gender identity. Instead, schools would be be mandated to provide “reasonable alternative arrangements” for those students. 

Schools would also be required to make sure transgender students are addressed by the name and pronoun they prefer, regardless of whether a legal name change has occurred. 

Transgender student bill passes, heads to Christie’s desk

The law also tells schools they must allow students to dress according to their gender identity, create confidentiality plans to make sure employees do not disclose a student’s transgender or transition status, issues school documents and identification cards to make the student’s gender identity, and let students take part in gym class with the gender that matches their identity. 

Christie, a Republican, did not explain why he signed the Democratic-sponsored bill.

Both houses of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed the bill last month — the Senate by a vote of 25-10 and the Assembly by a vote of 59-15-3. 

“These guidelines are needed to ensure that transgender students can safely be themselves without fear of being persecuted, and can help promote a culture of understanding and acceptance that will hopefully influence how students treat each other in and outside of school,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors.

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Another sponsor, Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen) added: “If we cultivate intolerance, children will pick up on that and think it is OK to bully others who are deemed different.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), another sponsor, said “all of our children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and that means having the regulatory framework in place to be sure that our schools are safe places and have supportive environments for all students.”

The bill was introduced after President Donald Trump this year rescinded federal guidance from President Barack Obama’s administration that public schools must let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.

Though state law already barred New Jersey school districts from discriminating against transgender students, some school districts still tried to stop students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identity. 

The state Department of Education last year said school districts should pass policies explaining how they handle issues related to gender identity, but the department stopped short of suggesting what those policies should say. 

This law would clarify that. 

New Jersey Family Policy Council, a conservative group that champions family values, spoke out heavily against the Democratic-sponsored measure.

Len Deo, the organization’s president, warned about the possibility of “opposite biological sex access” to student bathrooms and locker rooms and said teachers and students should not have to use pronouns chosen by transgender students.

Deo added that decisions about transgender policy should be made on the local level

“We believe it should be a local issue between parents, students and the school board,” he said. 

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NJ Advance Media staff writers Adam Clark and Sophie Nieto-Munoz contributed to this report.

Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find Politics on Facebook.