BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
If the names of the organizations and funders gearing up for the next big battle in California's Culture Wars sound familiar, that's because they are. In addition to the campaign's chief strategist, many of the same organizations and funders that came together to sponsor Proposition 8 five years ago, are teaming up for a signature gathering campaign to place an initiative on the November 2014 ballot that would overturn a bill that providing protections for transgender public school students, which was recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.
The law, which will go into effect January 1, says schools must allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender identification.
According to the Transgender Law Center, which cosponsored the bill with Equality California, 44% of transgender people reported experiencing some form of discrimination, assault, or harassment in 2011.
While it is not surprising that the Religious Right hasn't tired of waging Culture War battles, since, among other things, it provides media opportunities galore fabulous fundraising openings, it is a little surprising that the state's Republican Party – which has diminishing official political standing in the state – would endorse the referendum effort.
Earlier this year, anti-gay forces were handed a major setback involving California's Proposition 8 – the state's anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiative that passed in 2008. Prop 8 was eventually overturned by a federal court and in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Prop 8 proponents did not possess legal standing to defend the law in federal court, either to the Supreme Court or (previously) to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The newly formed anti-transgender students coalition is operating under the name Privacy for All Students, and is made up of many groups active in the Proposition 8 campaign. They include longtime anti-gay activist the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, the National Organization for Marriage, the California Catholic Conference and the Pacific Justice Institute, a Christian legal defense group based in Sacramento.
Televangelist Pat Robertson is also wading into the fray. On his "700 Club" television program Robertson checked in with some fuzzy thoughts on the subject, and with an endorsement of the repeal campaign: "I may be an old fuddy-duddy, what is transgender?" Robertson said. He criticized the California law saying: "[T]his whole business about transgenders, you're saying they've got boy parts but they want to go to the girls' restroom, that's absurd."
"Why are we exposed to this stuff? They are driving the agenda, driving everybody crazy, all this sexual identity, sexual politics, 'Mommy Has Two Mommies' [sic] and all that stuff. It's a tiny fringe but they seem to have control of the levers of power in the media and especially in Hollywood. But it's insane. I just cannot believe that the normal people in America, the people who want to just live their lives, can't be allowed to do it without having this stuff imposed on them constantly. You've explained to me, I'm not sure we know yet."
"[N]ow, we talk about transgender," he later added. "I have a former stallion who is now a gelding."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Privacy for All Students "is circulating 200,000 petitions statewide to qualify a measure invalidating legislation that conservatives have dubbed the 'transgender bathroom' law or the 'forced coed locker room' law." By November 12, Privacy for All Students will need to have gathered 505.000 valid signatures "which supporters say would stop the law from taking effect in January and allow Californians to vote on the issue in November 2014."
Frank Schubert, the Republican political consultant behind Prop. 8, is leading "the drive to qualify the latest ballot measure." He said that conservatives and evangelical voters have reacted to the law with "tremendous discomfort" because it opens up "the most sensitive areas of public schools" and threatens parental rights," the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.
Although he's won more than his fair share of anti-gay battles, last year, Schubert ran four unsuccessful anti-same-sex marriage ballot campaigns in Maryland, Minnesota, Washington State and Maine. (For more on Schubert, see this.)
Equality California Executive Director John O'Connor, whose organization co-sponsored AB1266 and helped lead the campaign against Proposition 8 in 2008, said: "Schubert has built a political career on these anti-LGBT measures that divide people and perhaps years ago he had some success. We have turned the corner. The public is solidly in favor of LGBT equality now."
Financier Sean Fieler of New York-based Equinox Partners, who contributed $80,000 toward the referendum effort is one of the biggest donors behind Privacy for All Students. "Fieler previously donated more than $1 million to the National Organization for Marriage to back Prop. 8," the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out. "He told the New York Times earlier this year that the 'gay lifestyle' does not promote 'monogamy, stability, health and parenting in the same way heterosexual relationships do.'"
The Chronicle reported that "Other big donors include the Pacific Justice Institute and the 5,000-member, nondenominational Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills (San Bernardino County), each of which gave $10,000. Jelly Belly magnate Herman Rowland gave $5,000."
Interestingly, Proposition 8 supporters are still in the courts fighting "for an exemption from the state's campaign disclosure laws because" they claim that there have been "threats and harassment ... from gay-rights supporters," sfgate.com recently reported. Prop 8 backers have sought to keep confidential the names of donors who contributed $100 or more to their campaign. Although those names are already on the Internet, Prop 8 supporters want them deleted from the state's website and its files sealed. James Bopp, lawyer for Prop. 8's main sponsors, a conservative religious coalition called Protect Marriage, stated that he wanted exemptions granted for future campaigns.
Not all Republicans are endorsing the signature gathering campaign. Charles Moran, Chair of the California Log Cabin Republicans, a California Republican Party Delegate and Executive Committee member, hopes that the GOP will not spend a lot of time or resources on the measure. Moran told frontiersla.com that the vote to endorse was a "very divided vote" in committee. "I can't speak for the chairman or the board of directors on this, but I believe the intent of the party will be to focus on its core objectives during the general election in November 2014—recruiting and supporting candidates and building the party infrastructure/Get Out the Vote. Initiatives don't fit into that equation."
While recognizing that it will be difficult to gather so many signatures in such a short time, Schubert said: "This is not a law people support by a long-shot. This is an attempt to hijack an issue that may be legitimate for a small number of people and use it to impose a statewide mandate in pursuit of a larger political agenda ... to strip society of all gender norms so there is no difference between men and women."
Nevertheless, given the organizations involved and the resources they can muster, the initiative may indeed qualify for the November 2014 ballot.