Guest Opinion: Attacks on queer youth ramp up in CA

  • by Paulina Angel
  • Wednesday October 11, 2023
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Paulina Angel. Photo: Courtesy Paulina Angel
Paulina Angel. Photo: Courtesy Paulina Angel

There is an attack going on here in California, and the victims are transgender and gender non-conforming youth. The seeds of this attack were planted in February when Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside) submitted Assembly Bill 1314, Gender Identity: Parental Notification. The legislation would have allowed for the forced outing of trans students without their consent. The next step Essayli took was to try to get something similar passed at a regional level to prove that there was support for his bill. He found an ally in Barbara Hale, the then-president of the Riverside County Board of Education, who represents both Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley. She submitted a resolution to be voted at a board meeting that took place in Indio in early April. But the resolution failed 6-1 when representatives and LGBTQ leaders of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, Trans Community Project, Planned Parenthood, and Equality California spoke up against it. AB 1314 itself would also die in an Assembly committee two weeks later. You may think that it is over after this double defeat, but it was only the beginning.

In recent reports, it was discovered that an anti-LGBTQ group reached out to the Desert Sands Unified School District, which serves the Greater Coachella Valley, in May to pass a resolution similar to what was presented at the Riverside board of education meeting; this is still being monitored. In July, the Chino Valley Unified School District in San Bernardino voted 4-1 on its own forced outing resolution, disregarding opposition from leaders, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, whom board President Sonja Shaw had thrown out of the meeting. A couple of weeks later, the Murrieta Valley school district would also pass a resolution that is a copy of what was adopted in Chino Valley.

Back in 2011, one of the first pieces of pro-LGBTQ education legislation, Senate Bill 48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, was signed into law by then-governor Jerry Brown. The law, which went into effect in 2012, requires social studies curriculum to include instruction on the role of LGBTQs and persons with disabilities in state history. It prohibits instruction that promotes discrimination.

Two years later, Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, was signed into law. It extends gender identity and gender expression discrimination protection to transgender and gender-nonconforming K-12 students in public schools. Since then, there have been more than 10 bills signed into law protecting LGBTQ youth, with a majority of them education-based.

In swift moves, the above-mentioned school districts and several others have violated these laws, and thus discriminated against LGBTQ students in the district. (Attorney General Rob Bonta has sued the Chino Valley school district and a judge has temporarily blocked the policy from going into effect.) By doing so, this opens a panic and a heightened threat against the well-being and mental health of students, which could potentially lead to students dropping out of school, or worse, suicide. Not all students feel comfortable with coming out to their parents, and kids are a whole lot smarter than what society gives them credit for. Youth understand the way of the world, as well as their own identity as a human being.

At the age of 5, I had a clear idea about the world around me, as well as who I was. I recognized that I was born in the wrong body, and who I was didn't align with what I felt about myself spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I really wish that I knew someone that I could have turned to and talked about how I felt. It was hard going through my youth worrying about a secret that I couldn't share and it tore me up inside, which caused me to develop social anxiety issues. But if I knew that I could have gone to my teacher or a school counselor, to talk about it, I feel that things would have been a whole lot different.

Today, we have educators that are now trained in childhood development, which has since been updated to include LGBTQ youth. Youth now have the option to talk to a school counselor or their favorite teacher, without worrying of a trust being broken. But it's people like Essayli, a GOP politician who wants to make a name for himself, who are forcing kids into the closet. And for what? He's not thinking about the youth that'll get hurt in the process. It is not about the parents, speaking of which, if parents today are as understanding, then there shouldn't be any problem; but this is all just to get his name out there, to be one of the new faces in the GOP that can create problems with the LGBTQ community.

Luckily for the LGBTQ community, we have many top advocacy organizations across California monitoring these new attacks and are ready to be present whenever another resolution should be heard. At the time of this being published, there will be school board meetings in Tustin and Redlands where supporters of the forced outing policy will likely engage in a hostile fashion to encourage it to be adopted.

There are also MAGA groups like Moms For Liberty and Protect Kids California that are planning on making it a ballot initiative for the November 2024 elections.

I just have one thing to say to Essayli: Bring It, because the LGBTQ community in California is mighty and well organized, and we'll continue to fight for equality and protections for our community.

Paulina Angel is a transgender activist and musician based in the Coachella Valley. She serves as founder/director of Transgender Resource Advocacy and Network Service (T.R.A.N.S.), executive director of Trans Community Project, board member of Palm Springs Pride, co-founder of East Coachella Valley Pride, co-lead of #Out4MentalHealth at Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, and co-founder of the Every One Initiative with Goldenvoice.

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