Measures targeting trans students eyed for CA ballot

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 30, 2023
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A person holds a version of the Pride flag under a giant trans flag at the 2016 San Francisco Trans March. A parental rights group is aiming to place three anti-trans initiatives on the California ballot next year. Photo: Rick Gerharter
A person holds a version of the Pride flag under a giant trans flag at the 2016 San Francisco Trans March. A parental rights group is aiming to place three anti-trans initiatives on the California ballot next year. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Unable to pass their anti-transgender agenda through the state Legislature, conservative parent groups are working to put a trio of ballot measures restricting the rights of trans youth before California voters next year. It comes amid intensifying legal and legislative actions over protecting LGBTQ youth in the Golden State.

One proposed ballot measure would restrict trans girls from playing on female athletic teams at school. A second measure would ban gender-affirming care for trans, nonbinary, and other gender-nonconforming youth.

The third proposed ballot measure would explicitly say that school districts can forcibly out transgender students to their parents or legal guardians without their permission. Several Southern California school boards have either already adopted such a policy this year or are looking to do so.

It led Attorney General Rob Bonta to file suit this week against the Chino Valley Unified School District's adoption of its mandatory gender identity disclosure policy. It came after Bonta's denouncements of such policies and repeated promises to uphold the privacy rights of transgender students failed to stop other school districts from enacting them.

"We're in court challenging Chino Valley Unified's forced outing policy for wrongfully and unconstitutionally discriminating against and violating the privacy rights of LGBTQ+ students," stated Bonta in announcing the lawsuit. "The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of nonconforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home."

Along with Governor Gavin Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond has also taken a forceful stand against the anti-trans policies being adopted by conservative school board members. In a recent video interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Thurmond said one of his biggest concerns is how such actions are impacting the environment in those districts' schools for LGBTQ students.

"I am very worried about the tenor and anger it is creating in school communities, the actions of these board majorities," said Thurmond, a former state legislator from the East Bay. "We have put out guidance to school districts that we believe students have a right to privacy as it relates to their sexual identity."

Assemblymember Chris Ward plans to introduce legislation next year that would prohibit school boards from adopting forced outing policies. Photo: Courtesy Assemblymember Ward's office  

Meanwhile, state legislators are working with Newsom and LGBTQ advocates to draft a bill that would ban such outing policies from being adopted by school boards. Gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), a married father, was expected to officially introduce the legislation this week but decided to push back doing so until sometime in 2024 in order to have more time to craft its language.

"Recognizing the nuance and complexity of this work, we are continuing to refine our legislative approach in this two-year session, including working with the governor and key stakeholders, to ensure the most comprehensive and responsible legislation is proposed," stated Ward. "Our LGBTQ caucus is fully committed to assuring that every student feels safe and supported in their school environment and that teachers aren't forced into policing and outing students. We know that lives and careers are at stake here and will be in a stronger position soon for the hard work ahead."

When the B.A.R. spoke to Thurmond last Friday, he had yet to be apprised about Ward's bill proposal. He said he hoped any new legislation brought forward in the Legislature would "create full clarity with the law as it relates to the privacy of students and as it relates to their privacy around their gender identity."

Bonta's litigation and the proposed ballot measure could also impact what language is needed in any bill that Ward decides to introduce next year. Should the ballot measure end up being adopted by voters, it would likely supersede any bill that state lawmakers end up passing.

Proponents of the three ballot measures have come together under the banner of Protect Kids California. They submitted them to Bonta's office Monday, as it will be up to the attorney general to issue a title and summary for each one.

At that point the group can begin to collect the 546,651 certified signatures from registered California voters per initiative to qualify them for next November's ballot. It plans to release the exact language of the petitions for people to sign in support of the trio of initiatives in October.

Although it doesn't expect to begin the signature drive until November, the group is already raising funds to support the on-the-ground efforts that will be needed for it to succeed in putting the measures before voters.

"Even though the supermajority in the Capitol is against us, the people of California are on our side," said Jonathan Zachreson, co-founder of Protect Kids California.

Daylong seminar
Elected to the Roseville City School Board last November, Zachreson plugged the ballot measures during a daylong "Parental Rights Virtual Open House" that the conservative California Policy Center held this month. Also taking part in it and supportive of the ballot effort is Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside), who co-authored a bill this year that would have forced the outing of trans students but saw the legislation be killed in committee in the spring, as the B.A.R. reported at the time.

"If you are going to transition a kid, at least let the parents in on it and know what is going on so they can decide what is best for their kids," said Essayli.

While there has already been speculation that the initiative effort won't have the resources required to collect enough signatures to place them on next fall's ballot — its political action committee A Students First California Committee in Support of Measures to Protect Kids has yet to report any fundraising figures — the issue has been animating conservative leaders and anti-LGBTQ lawmakers across the country for several years now. As the B.A.R.'s online Political Notes column reported August 28, the freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America detailed in a new report about what it calls "intimidation bills" that nearly 400 such legislation touted as advancing the rights of parents with school-age children have been introduced since 2021.

Among such legislation are those requiring teachers to police students' gender expression. Of the bills submitted by lawmakers in 2023 that PEN America included in its report, 45% have an anti-LGBTQ+ provision, including the forced outing of students.
"I really believe this is going to be the issues of the next election in 2024. It is all about parental rights," predicted Essayli.

School board actions sought
A number of conservative groups aren't waiting for next year's election to take action. They have joined together as the Coalition For Parental Rights to push for more school boards to adopt so-called parental rights policies. They created the website to assist parents specifically wishing to bring forward a parental notification policy in their school district.

As for the ballot measure proponents, they point to various polling conducted on transgender issues to argue the public is on their side when it comes to the three policy areas. For instance, they point to a Gallup poll released in June that found support for restricting transgender youth to playing on athletic teams based on the sex they were assigned at birth had increased to 69%, a jump of seven points in two years with support increasing among both Democrats and independents.

That same month polling from the more conservative Rasmussen Reports and Real Impact found 62% of California voters would be more likely to support a law if it included notifying parents of a child identifying, requesting to identify, or being treated as a gender that doesn't align with their biological sex.

"The data clearly shows that California parents support transparency and accountable policies, making it mandatory for the school administrations to inform parents if their child is facing any of these challenges or lifestyle changes," stated Gina Gleason, executive director of Real Impact. "Parents are attending school board meetings in droves to show that despite what the education establishment thinks, children, their well-being, and upbringing are not the responsibility of the school or state, it's the responsibility of the parents."

Also bolstering the ballot measure effort, contend proponents, are the findings of a Harvard Harris poll in June where 82% said they favor state legislation strengthening parental rights over their children and that 78% only support surgery to change gender and puberty blockers for people age 18 and older.

"Let's play offense here," said Zachreson about the decision to take the three issues regarding transgender youth rights "directly to the people of California."

Thurmond told the B.A.R. that he agrees parents have a right to know what is occurring in their children's schools. But he insists there are better options to address their concerns than through the anti-LGBTQ policies school boards are adopting or via the ballot box.

"I support parental rights, and parents should be involved in what their students learn in school. There are ways to do that," he said. "Parents should be involved in all things when it comes to their children. When it comes to conversations about students' sexual orientation or gender identity, those should take place within the family. It should not be taking place because of being forced to by a school district or mandated by a school district policy."

Various LGBTQ and straight allied leaders are already sounding the alarm about the ballot measures or are taking preemptive stances on the specific issues they target. Transgender Assembly candidate Evan Minton, a onetime legislative aide for Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) who is seeking an open legislative seat in Sacramento next year, issued a strong denouncement of the "extremist" backed initiatives and asked his supporters to share it via their social media platforms.

"Let's be clear: these proposed initiatives are rooted in anti-trans and misogynistic beliefs," stated Minton, who filed a lawsuit to ensure he received necessary medical care from his providers. "They're pushed by those who deny the reality that thousands of Californians are trans and that we live in every community. They cynically exploit LGBTQ+ children as pawns to advance their narrow agenda. This manipulation is sickening and must end."

At its meeting August 29, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors reaffirmed its commitment to gender-affirming health care for all individuals, especially youth who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender-diverse. In 2019, the county established the first health clinic in the South Bay focused on providing care to such individuals and is now working to open a Transgender Wellness Center.

"The County of Santa Clara will not sit on our collective hands while fear-mongering and legislative bullying around gender-affirming care slithers across the country. These policies inflict direct harm on our children, their families, and their future," stated District 4 Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, the board's president who brought forward the resolution. "Gender-affirming care is health care. Santa Clara County is committed to improving the quality and accessibility of care for all residents, including all transgender and gender-expansive children."

District 2 Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community, noted the politicization around trans youth issues taking place even in the Golden State as a reason for her support for the resolution.

"I am proud that the Board of Supervisors has reaffirmed Santa Clara County's support of gender-affirming care and LGBTQ+ rights," stated Chavez. "The lawsuit filed this week by the state attorney general against the Chino Valley Unified School District shows that the LGBTQ+ community is under legal attack, even here in California."

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