Editorial: Bonta has more school districts to sue

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday August 30, 2023
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Photo: AP/file
California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Photo: AP/file

California Attorney General Rob Bonta this week filed a lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District because its board voted last month to adopt a mandatory gender identity disclosure policy. But Chino Valley is just the first school district to have such a policy, and we expect Bonta to soon file similar lawsuits against the Murrieta Valley Unified School District and the Temecula Valley Unified School District, as their school boards adopted similar forced outing policies this month. These policies require schools to inform parents, with minimal exceptions, whenever a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from that on their birth certificate or official records, even without the student's permission. In Chino Valley's case, since that lawsuit was filed August 28, the policy also requires notification if a student requests to use facilities or participates in programs that don't align with their sex on official records, Bonta's office stated in a news release accompanying the lawsuit.

Bonta is challenging that policy, which he says violates the California Constitution and state laws safeguarding civil rights. It has "already caused and is threatening to cause LGBTQ+ students with further mental, emotional, psychological, and potential physical harm," the release stated.

Specifically, Bonta's lawsuit maintains that the Chino Valley forced outing policy violates the state's equal protection clause because it unlawfully discriminates and singles out students who request to identify with or use other names or pronouns. The district is also in violation of California's education and Government codes, the lawsuit stated. Education Code Sections 200 and 220 and Government Code Section 11135 ensure equal rights and opportunities for every student and prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Finally, Bonta's lawsuit charges that Chino Valley is in violation of the state's constitutional right to privacy. The constitution expressly protects the right to "privacy," including both "informational privacy" and "autonomy privacy." The Chino Valley policy mandate to out trans and gender-nonconforming students against their wishes or without their consent violates that right, the lawsuit stated.

It's true that all students should feel safe at school, both LGBTQ and straight. District policies should reflect that. The problem with Chino Valley, Murrieta Valley, and Temecula Valley is that these school boards are specifically targeting trans and gender-nonconforming students, many of whom may not feel safe at home and, as a result, schools become their primary safe space. That goes away with these forced outing policies. It's also the case that school staff may tell a student's parents about changes in their gender identity or gender expression with the student's permission when the student is ready. Unfortunately, this latest wave of forced outing policies does not do that.

It's also true that parents and guardians often know what's best for their kids. But when transphobic parents threaten their trans or gender-nonconforming kids with kicking them out of the house, or worse, it's no wonder that some of these students would have great hesitation in coming out to them.

These parental rights groups don't have students' best interest in mind. On the contrary, as we report this week, Protect Kids California has started the process to qualify three anti-trans initiatives on next year's state ballot. One would prohibit trans girls from playing on female athletic teams, another would ban gender-affirming care for trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming youth, and the third — you guessed it — would explicitly state that school districts can adopt forced outing policies. With several polls showing support for the subjects of the proposed ballot measures, if one or more qualify, California will be front and center in the culture wars again. To top it off, the anti-trans measures would compete with the constitutional amendment in which voters will decide whether to remove the "zombie" Proposition 8 language from the state's governing document. (Prop 8, of course, was found to be unconstitutional but its language defining marriage as between a man and a woman remains in the constitution.)

Put all of this together and it's easy to see that LGBTQ rights, particularly those of trans people, are going to be the subject of angry debate and underhanded tactics designed to persuade straight people that trans people are not deserving of equal rights. It's a sorry state of affairs.

In the meantime, we urge Bonta to file similar lawsuits against Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley school districts. Legal action, it seems, will be the only way for these school districts to respect students and not cause them harm by disclosing private information to their parents. Bonta has been a steadfast ally to the LGBTQ community, and these efforts by conservative school boards are wrong and unconscionable. These board members don't care about the physical and mental well-being of students and are using the "parents rights" trope as a hammer. That a bunch of adults want to endanger students by taking away their privacy rights is breathtaking and frightening.

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