The law's opponents needed at least 504,760 signatures to force a public vote on the statute approved by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. They submitted 619,387, but county election officers determined that just 487,484 of them were valid, according to a final count posted on the secretary of state's website.
The law at issue took effect Jan. 1. It guarantees students in grades K-12 the right to use the school restrooms and to participate in the sex-segregated activities that correspond with their expressed genders instead of their school records.
The coalition of religious conservative groups behind the repeal effort said it violates the privacy of youngsters who may be uncomfortable sharing facilities with classmates of the opposite biological sex. The law's supporters said it is needed to provide statewide consistency and to improve the school experiences of young people who decide to live by a gender different from the one they had at birth.
If the referendum had made the ballot, the law would have been put on hold until after the election as its supporters and opponents mounted a campaign that promised to be as bitterly fought as the one over Proposition 8, the 2008 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California until last year.
Karen England of the Privacy for All Students coalition said the proposed referendum's backers are not conceding defeat yet. They plan to review the disqualified signatures and, depending what they find, go to court to try to get enough added to the final tally so the measure would have to be put to voters.
"We are preparing for the next stage of the battle," England said in a statement. "After months of waiting, we now get to see why so many signatures were thrown out. Certainly some signers were not registered to vote or had moved without changing their address. But it is also certain that many of those signatures were rejected based on reasons that will not survive a legal challenge."
California is the first state to detail the rights of transgender students in schools by statute. Some school districts around California, as well as the education departments in Massachusetts and Connecticut, have implemented similar policies by regulation.
Although the law's opponents have focused on potential abuses and awkward encounters in bathrooms and locker rooms, school districts have taken it as a mandate to evaluate yearbook photo dress codes, sleeping arrangements for overnight field trips, and activities such as choirs and recreational sports where girls and boys are often separated. Some have also given students who object to using restrooms or locker rooms with transgender classmates the option of using staff restrooms.
"This law gives schools the guidelines and flexibility to create an environment where all kids have the opportunity to learn. We need to focus on creating an environment where every student is able to do well and graduate. This law is about doing what's best for all students," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which governs competitive high school sports, adopted a detailed process in 2012 that students must follow if they want to play on a team that is not consistent with their gender at birth.