No one can be sure why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed Democrat-sponsored bills that ensure new rights for transgendered public school students and force insurance companies, state-licensed hospitals, health providers, and Medicaid to serve and cover transgendered patients and clients.
Christie did not offer an explanation when he announced that he had signed the legislation.
It is true that beyond public opinion polls, which have been pretty miserable for him, Christie won’t have to face the wrath of conservative voters on the LGBT issue. After serving two terms as governor of New Jersey, he can’t run for reelection.
However, given Christie’s record on transgendered students and gay rights, the decision to sign the legislation was still a surprise.
Christie had said in March that it should be up to each school district in New Jersey to decide how to handle their transgendered students. He also refused to issue a statewide “edict” on the issue.
Christie vetoed legislation in 2014 that would have permitted New Jersey residents, after undergoing a sex-change operation, to change the gender designation on their birth certificates.
Two years before that, he vetoed a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage.
But when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2016, Christie said he would enforce the court’s decision rather than fighting it.
When the legislation signed July 21 by Gov. Christie takes effect Nov. 1, New Jersey’s transgendered students will be able to use whichever bathroom or locker room they choose in their public schools.
Students will also be able to tell teachers and administrators which name and pronoun should be used in addressing them even if they have not legally changed their name.
And the state education commissioner is required to write specific guidelines to address the needs of transgender students and set up policies to “ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment” for those students.
Whatever Christie’s motivation, Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of Garden State Equality, tweeted, “@GovChristie you did good today. You’re welcome to come sit at the gay beach! Thank you for signing those bills. #LGBT #Equality”
A statement from Garden State Equality also said that Christie was “standing on the right side of history on this one” by taking a “stand for LGBT youth.”
However, groups on the other side of the LGBT equality debate were outraged.
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, warned the new law would open the door to “opposite biological sex access” to bathrooms and locker rooms. Deo also said decisions on what public schools do about transgendered students should be left to “parents, students, and the school board.”
Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, accused Christie of signing legislation that would force-feed an LGBT agenda to the state’s public schools. He said approving the new law would “jeopardize the safety of students by forcing them to use restrooms, showers and hotel rooms for overnight events with someone of the opposite sex.”
Staver also said the legislation “permits gender-confused students to participate in opposite sex physical education activities and other formerly gender-separate activities, and further allows them to room on overnight trips with members of the opposite sex.”
Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D), a sponsor of the legislation, said the new law wouldn’t only offer guidance to local school districts; she believes it sends a message to transgendered students that they are important.
“Schools need to set the right tone. If we cultivate intolerance, children will pick up on that and think it is OK to bully others who are deemed different,” said Caride. “No one deserves to be mistreated because of who they are. These guidelines send a clear message to transgender children that we support them, and that discrimination and harassment of any form will not be tolerated.”
Christie also signed legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D), that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage or services to people because they are transgendered. It also stops insurers from designating gender identity as a pre-existing condition and charging transgendered people higher premiums. It also prevents insurers from refusing to cover gender reassignment surgery.
“Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals,” Huttle said in a statement, “have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide.”