Ashton Lee — a 16-year-old Manteca High student at the vanguard of the successful effort to secure transgender rights in California public schools — is now making sure those trying to repeal the new law play fair.
Ashton and his mother Catherine Lee filed a complaint with the California Attorney General’s Office contending that the Capitol Resources Institute has been operating illegally.
The organization caught Ashton’s attention as it is leading the effort to get Assembly Bill 1266 signed into law in August by Gov. Jerry Brown from taking effect Jan. 1. The CRI is also trying to gather 505,000 registered voters’ signatures for a 2014 ballot measure to block transgender rights in public schools as secured by the new law.
Ashton’s complaint stems from an IRS action in February that revoked the CRI’s tax-exempt status. The organization had failed to provide mandated financial information for three straight years. The CRI has since indicated they are tax-exempt as they collect contributions to further its objectives including placing a measure to stop transgender rights in public schools on the statewide ballot.
“It troubles us that this group, which is sending out emails asking for money to overturn a law, the School Success and Opportunity Act, that just makes sure students like me can participate in school, is doing so illegally,” Ashton noted in a press release. “Our lives are directly harmed on a daily basis by the work they are doing to attack our rights and opportunities.”
Ashton had delivered a petition with 5,700 signatures to the governor urging him to sign the law.
The School Success and Opportunity Act authored by Senator Mark Leno and Senator Ricardo Lara allows transgender students to access school accommodations such as sports teams, PE classes, and bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Manteca High had placed Ashton in a girls’ PE class instead of boys’ PE. He became involved with the campaign to get the School Success and Opportunity Act passed after participating in the Queer Advocacy Day conducted in April by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
There are reportedly four other openly transgender students at Manteca High.
Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer said school officials meet with the Lee family and determined their request for Ashton’s inclusion in boy-centric programs was valid under existing federal law.
Messer said that was decided based on the fact Ashton has been consistent with his gender identification. Messer said he expects that will be one of the key components for determining whether a student qualifies for transgender accommodation under the law when a boilerplate school policy is fashioned by the California School Boards Association. That template policy is being held up awaiting the outcome of current efforts to derail the law before it goes into effect.
Regardless, Messer said Manteca Unified will continue to comply with what he said are clear federal laws governing accommodations for transgender students.
“After years of failing to defeat other LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) nondiscrimination protections, it is sad that these fringe groups are using their resources — illegally — to target vulnerable students,” said John O’Connor, Executive Director of Equality California in a press release on Wednesday. “It is an inspiration to see that Ashton is not so vulnerable and has taken great initiative to organize and take action with his heroically supportive mother.”
“We are so proud to see Ashton, a young person who legally and honestly fought for the opportunity to succeed in school, stand up to these fringe groups who have lied to the public in their attempt to bully him and transgender students across the state,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network.