CA bill aims to protect transgender youths' privacy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023
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Assemblymember Chris Ward. Photo: Courtesy Chris Ward
Assemblymember Chris Ward. Photo: Courtesy Chris Ward

Legislation introduced this week by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) aims to protect the privacy of transgender youth in California. It would do so by requiring the courts to seal any petition for a change of gender or sex identifier filed by a minor.

Ward announced January 10 that he had filed Assembly Bill 223, which has been titled the Transgender Youth Privacy Act.

"Being 'outed' is a traumatic event for anyone — but especially traumatic for someone under the age of 18 years old," stated Ward, a married father now serving in his second two-year term. "The Transgender Youth Privacy Act gives transgender youth the confidence to navigate their gender identity without fear of retaliation from someone who discovers that information in the public record."

The bill is seen as helping to address the mental health and well-being of trans youth. Ward pointed to a federal study that found transgender youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers, and other surveys that have found transgender youth are more likely to experience violence victimization, substance use, and depression.

Because a change of gender or sex identifier petitions are currently public records, it is possible for someone to learn that a youth is in the process of transitioning from the sex they were assigned at birth. Yet advocates of Ward's legislation note that "outing" or "misgendering" someone can have severe negative consequences for adolescents.

They contend minors should be able to decide when, and how, they share their personal information with their peers.

"Often families were not even aware that these records are public until years after when a court order is discovered in a Google search of the youth's name," stated Kathie Moehlig, executive director of San Diego-based TransFamily Support Services. "Keeping these records public will put many students at high risk for bullying, hatred, and even violence."

Moehlig's adopted son Sam, now an adult, transitioned during his adolescence. The lack of resources the family was able to access prompted her to launch the nonprofit eight years ago.

Ward's bill will go a long way toward securing "the safety and privacy of so many California youth," according to Moehlig.

"Transgender and nonbinary youth are navigating a world of hate daily. By sealing the name and gender marker change records, we are bringing the courts in line with the laws around schools not outing students," she stated. "We applaud Assemblymember Ward for bringing this forward and fighting for the right of trans and nonbinary youth across the state."

It is the second bill filed this legislative session related to LGBTQ youth. As the Bay Area Reporter first reported last month, freshman gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood) introduced AB 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, as one of his first two bills he is carrying this year.

If adopted, the bill would mandate that teachers and credentialed staff at the state's 977 public school districts take an online LGBTQ cultural competency training course when it goes live next year. The California Department of Education is working with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the San Joaquin Office of Education on developing the training.

The state agency in late 2022 told the B.A.R. it intends to debut the online training in conjunction with Pride Month in June 2024. Should they meet that timeline, it would mark five years after state lawmakers first called for such a professional seminar to be created.

As Zbur had explained to the B.A.R., he authored AB 5 to ensure that the previous legislation calling for creation of the training didn't end up "sitting on the shelf" somewhere in Sacramento. As the former executive director for the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, Zbur had pressed for its passage.

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