Felix Beaudry, a senior at Berkeley High who has transitioned from female to male, told school district directors Wednesday night why he thought BUSD should adopt policies protecting agender and transsexual students. Photo: Mark Coplan?BUSD
Felix Beaudry, a senior at Berkeley High who has transitioned from female to male, told school district directors Wednesday night why he thought BUSD should adopt policies protecting transgender students. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Just weeks after an agender student was set on fire in Oakland while riding an AC Transit bus, the Berkeley Unified School District has adopted new policies to protect those who are transgender, gender fluid, or do not identify as male or female.

The school board adopted the new policies, which will go into effect immediately, by a 5-0 vote at its meeting on Wednesday Dec. 11.

The new rules will allow people born into one sex but who identify with another to use whatever bathroom or locker room they prefer. They can join the athletic team of their choice and dress however they want. They can use whatever pronoun they prefer to refer to themselves.

The school district can only question a student’s gender identity if they think the student is using the rules for an “improper purpose,” according to the new policies.

“Our staff and school community clearly recognize and actively support the rights of transgender youth,” said Julie Sinai, a member of the school board . “That said, we cannot take tolerance, understanding and support for granted. Respect for students rights, and in this case, transgender youth, must be codified and applied consistently across the district. This policy does just that.”

Berkeley now joins San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities around the state with similar laws.

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act, which requires the state’s public schools to respect students’ gender identities and make sure they can fully participate in all sports and school programs. That law is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but may be postponed. A group opposed to the law, Privacy for All Students, circulated a referendum to put the law before voters. The group submitted 602,000 signatures to election officials, more than the 504,760 needed to get it on the ballot. Election officials are now verifying the signatures.

Discrimination against those who are agender or transsexual was highlighted in November, when a 16-year old Oakland youth set Sasha Fleischman’s skirt on fire while Fleischman was riding an AC Transit bus.  Fleischman, 18, does not identify as either male or female but as agender and prefers they or their as a pronoun rather than he or she. The youth charged with the crime told police he was homophobic. He is being prosecuted as an adult.

The alleged attacker, Richard Thomas, has been charged with a hate crime, but Fleischman and Fleischman’s father have questioned whether he should be tried as an adult.

The attack prompted a huge outpouring of support for Fleischman and other agender and transsexual students. Faculty, staff and students at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, where Fleischman is a senior, wore skirts in solidarity. Residents of Oakland strung up multicolored ribbons along the AC Transit bus route. There were hundreds of news stories about the attack.

Fleischman, who was burned around the legs, returned home in time for Thanksgiving.

BUSD’s policy was in the works before the attack on Fleischman, according to Judy Appel, a member of the school board . Once Gov. Brown signed AB 1266 into law, Berkeley took another look at its policies to make sure it ensured that all students have safe places to learn – something that is required by law. The new policy will provide the administrative framework to let teachers and administrators do that, she said.

School board members were moved by the remarks made by Felix Beaudry, a senior at Berkeley High, his parents, and his friends, said Appel. Beaudry transitioned from female to male while at Berkeley High and has felt supported and understood through the process by faculty and staff and his classmates, he told the board. Appel said the district wants to make sure every student feels that supported, as acceptance is critical to academic success.

Under the new policy adopted Wednesday night, BUSD will have to maintain a student’s legal name and sex on his or her transcript, but will use whatever name and gender identity the student selects on all other documents. The district also promises to investigate all complaints of bullying and harassment.

In other news, the BUSD board elected Josh Daniels as its new president for 2014

Read the BUSD policy.

March for fire victim Sasha Fleischman set for tonight (11.14.13)
Berkeley students wear skirts to support hate crime victim (11.08.13)
Teen who set fire to Berkeley student charged with hate crime (11.08.13)
Supporters rally for Berkeley student set fire on bus (11.07.13)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...