Lawmakers send outing students ban to CA Gov Newsom

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 27, 2024
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Assemblymember Chris Ward introduced his SAFETY Act at a May 22 news conference. The bill has been sent to Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Courtesy Ward's office
Assemblymember Chris Ward introduced his SAFETY Act at a May 22 news conference. The bill has been sent to Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Courtesy Ward's office

California lawmakers have sent Governor Gavin Newsom a bill aimed at prohibiting public school officials in the Golden State from outing transgender students to their parents or guardians without their permission.

A little over a month ago gay state Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) had revived the legislation after pulling it last fall amid a lawsuit against one school district that had adopted such an outing policy and concerns from educators who wanted the bill's language tweaked. Ward used the gut-and-amend approach to rewrite his Assembly Bill 1955 to insert the language banning the forced outing of transgender students by state public school officials unless doing so was needed to protect the youth from self-harm.

The bill, titled the SAFETY Act for Support Academic Futures & Educators for Today's Youth Act, then sailed through the Legislature. The Senate adopted it June 13 on a 29-8 vote with three abstentions.

The Assembly passed it by a 60-15 vote Thursday, June 27, but not without some drama on the floor of the chamber. Gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris) got into a heated exchange with Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Corona), who last year had co-authored a bill that would have forced the outing of trans students but died in committee.

Tony Hoang, a gay man who is executive director of the statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization Equality California, thanked Ward and the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus members for pushing through the bill, which was vigorously opposed by anti-LGBTQ groups as an attack against the rights of parents. Hoang also called out Essayli in his statement he released shortly after the Assembly passed AB 1955.

"While today's Assembly floor vote was successful, anti-LGBTQ+ politician Bill Essayli took the opportunity to be disruptive, attempt to delay the process, and spew misinformation harmful to LGBTQ+ youth and their families," stated Hoang. "This serves as a stark reminder that though we have a pro-equality majority in Sacramento, our opponents will continue to use bigoted rhetoric and political circus stunts to attack our community."

In a lengthy post on X, Ward wrote he was "relieved" that AB 1955 made it out of the Legislature. The married father thanked those who had spoken out in support of the bill over the past five weeks.

"I want to thank everyone who was respectful and debated this bill on its merits without using inflammatory rhetoric and hurtful language," wrote Ward. "I also want to thank the LGBTQ+ students in school districts that have enacted forced outing policies for their bravery as the Legislature weighed in on this important issue."

If enacted into state law, it would supersede any outing policies adopted by school districts and make them null and void. The bill also includes a provision protecting teachers who oppose such policies from retaliation by school district officials.

It would still allow school employees to disclose such information if they believe it will benefit a student who is experiencing a mental health issue or is at risk to themselves or others and requires additional support or services than what the school can provide them.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta had filed a lawsuit last year against a Southern California school district in San Bernardino County that adopted such an outing policy. Amid the legal fight, the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education rescinded it in March after the San Bernardino County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction order against it carrying out the transphobic policy.

Yet, because school officials have continued to say the policy is needed, Bonta is now seeking a final judgment to ensure the district cannot adopt it in the future. He noted such policies are a "hot issue" during a June 20 Zoom call with LGBTQ journalists, as the B.A.R. reported.

Bonta said his office is awaiting a final court decision "that could be helpful statewide." There are at least seven pending lawsuits filed in either state or federal court pertaining to the outing policies, with some seeking to overturn those already adopted by school boards and others filed by parents or school employees in support of seeing their schools implement the policies.

On the LGBTQ media call Bonta noted his office has "shared with the court other policies. We need an order statewide that enjoins such policies from being implemented."

Ward's bill will be sent to Newsom for him to either sign or veto in the coming days. EQCA's Hoang "strongly urged" the governor to sign it as soon as possible.

"With LGBTQ+ young people under attack in California from extremist politicians and school boards seeking to prevent them from safely being themselves at school, the SAFETY Act could not be more timely or necessary," stated Hoang. "We are thrilled to see it headed to Governor Newsom's desk."

It is the second of the LGBTQ caucus' priority bills sent this month to Newsom. As the B.A.R. reported online June 26, Newsom signed into law that Wednesday Senate Bill 1278 requiring whoever occupies California's gubernatorial office to annually proclaim December 1 as World AIDS Day.

Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who ran an AIDS agency in Santa Cruz County during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, authored it. It takes effect January 1.

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