Republican Governor Chris Christie gave New Jersey’s transgender students another level of protection by signing a bill that prohibits discrimination in public schools. That law was signed just after he signed another measure into law that prohibits state-regulated health insurers from discriminating against patients based on gender identity.
The transgender student law takes effect immediately, and would require that the state education commissioner draft specific guidelines to assist public schools in addressing the needs of transgender students. Public schools will be forbidden from forcing transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that do not correspond with their gender identity. They will be required instead to ensure that they provide “reasonable alternative arrangements, if needed, to ensure a student’s safety and comfort.”
Schools will also need to ensure that they are addressing students by the proper pronouns regardless if a legal name change has been done and by their gender identity. There will also be privacy provisions put into place, where schools will need to create confidentiality plans to make sure employees don’t disclose a student’s transition or transgender status, issue school documents like ID cards in the student’s gender identity and allow students to take part in gym classes that also match their gender identity.
Christie initially refused to sign a law like this, he said individual school districts should have the right to draft their own policies with regards to transgender students. There has been no explanation as to why Christie changed his mind. The measure passed last month by a 25-10 vote in the state Senate and a 59-15-3 count in the New Jersey State Assembly.
The significance of the law’s passing at the state level comes after President Donald Trump rescinded federal guidance enacted under President Barack Obama that required public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms that coincided with their gender identity. Governor Christie had tried unsuccessfully to find a place in Washington D.C. in the current presidents adminstration since the election last November. Christie’s two terms as governor will end in early 2018. He is not allowed by state law to run for a third term.
“These guidelines are needed to ensure that transgender students can safely be themselves without fear of being persecuted,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors. “[the law] can help promote a culture of understanding and acceptance that will hopefully influence how students treat each other in and outside of school.”
The other bill signed by Christie will take effect on November 1 and will keep state-regulated health insurers, healthcare for public employees, teachers, and Medicaid from discriminating against transgender subscribers.