The battle over transgender rights is heating up in California as the state sued a Southern California school district on Monday while conservatives launched an effort for a statewide ballot measure.
Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District over its parental notification policy that took effect in July and requires district schools to alert parents if a student begins using a name or pronoun different from the one on their official records. The same day, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists rallied at the state Capitol to announce they are starting signature-backed ballot initiatives for three bills targeting transgender students after a recent related bill failed to gain ground in the Democrat-controlled legislature.
“The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home,” Bonta said in a press release. “Our message to Chino Valley Unified and all school districts in California is loud and clear: We will never stop fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students.”
A parents rights supporter holds up a sign during Chino Valley Unified School District board meeting at Don Lugo High School in Chino on Thursday night July 20, 2023. CVUSD will vote on a parental notification policy requiring schools to notify parents if their child changes their pronouns. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
The proposed initiatives, which are backed by a conservative coalition called Protect Kids California, would block transgender girls from competing in female sports programs, prevent transgender children from accessing gender-affirming medical treatment, and force schools to notify parents if their child is using a different name or set of pronouns at school.
Transgender rights have become a growing focus in America’s culture wars where, this year alone, a record 633 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced across the country, according to LGBTQ+ suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project. LGBTQ+ advocates say these bills, along with other anti-trans policies sweeping the state, would deal a devastating blow to some of California’s most vulnerable students.
“Each of us decides when we come out. It’s no one else’s damn business,” tweeted Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, on Monday. “Forcing a teacher to out a trans kid to their parents — even if the kid isn’t ready & even if it puts them at risk of harm — is dangerous & frankly, despicable.”
Today, just one third of trans and non-binary youth say their home is a gender-affirming place, according to data from The Trevor Project. Forced outing bills, experts say, would make things even more difficult for a group of students with already high levels of mental health challenges. The organization’s data also found that one in three LGBTQ+ young people said their mental health was poor because of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Despite widespread support for LGBTQ policies in the Bay Area, opinions vary nationally. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 60% of Americans feel trans athletes should compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth, while 46% feel it should be illegal for health care professionals to help someone under the age of 18 access “medical care for gender transition.”
“What we are concerned with is who gets to raise our kids,” said Assemblymember Bill Essayli, R-Riverside, at a news conference Monday promoting the bills. “Is it the government, or is it our parents? That’s what this comes down to.”
Essayli was in Sacramento to promote the beginning of the initiatives’ ballot push — a political avenue that sidesteps the support of California’s Democratic governor and legislature. An effort to gather signatures will begin after the measures’ drafts are submitted to the attorney general, who has until Oct. 26 to prepare a title and summary for each measure. Each will need 546,651 signatures to qualify for the ballot. If that happens by a spring deadline, the initiative will be placed before California voters during a general election, the next of which will take place in November 2024.
Earlier this year, Essayli proposed a statewide bill similar to the one implemented at Chino Valley Unified. Though the bill failed to reach the senate floor, multiple Southern Californian school districts passed policies of their own, including Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley.
The Bay Area hasn’t been immune from the controversy. Earlier this month, there were moves to try and scuttle LGBTQ+ inclusion programs in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. During a heated school board meeting, some community members painted the district as a brainwashing machine, while others said the district was the first place some LGBTQ+ students had ever felt safe.
“It does disturb me how many voices I’ve heard that say parents need to know if their kid comes out with a different identity, or if they want to be referred to by a different name. I think these people don’t understand how terrifying this is,” said Ace Christman, a former San Ramon Valley student who spoke at the school board meeting.
Ace Christman, of San Ramon and community member of LBGTQ+, speaks during a board of education meeting at the San Ramon Valley School Unified School District Education Center in Danville, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)