Editorial: EQCA needs to mount decline to sign campaign to thwart anti-trans measures

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday November 29, 2023
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California's November 2024 ballot could see pro- and anti-LGBTQ measures on it. Photo: Rick Gerharter
California's November 2024 ballot could see pro- and anti-LGBTQ measures on it. Photo: Rick Gerharter

As we have reported, in early November, the California Secretary of State's office cleared three anti-trans ballot measures to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the November 2024 ballot. That these proposed measures reek of transphobia is obvious even as they are cloaked in the so-called parents rights movement, which is just another way for conservatives to espouse anti-LGBTQ policies. It's no secret that Protect Kids California, the group behind the three proposed initiatives, is anti-trans — it counts among its allies Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside), who attempted to get a bill passed in the Legislature that would have forcibly outed trans students. That bill stood no chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Legislature — and died earlier this year — which Essayli most certainly knew would happen. Nevertheless, he used that legislation as a springboard to support similar policies that several school boards have now adopted across the state. (One of those districts, Chino Valley Unified, has been slapped with a preliminary injunction prohibiting it from enforcing most of the policy after Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against it earlier this year.)

It is no surprise that one of the three proposed initiatives would expand that forced outing policy statewide. Titled "Requires Schools To Report Any Change In A Student's Expressed Gender, Without Exception for Student's Safety," it would, according to Bonta's office, which is responsible for the title and summary of proposed initiatives, "require K-12 schools to notify parents whenever a student under the age of 18 asks to be treated as a gender different from what is listed on their school records."

The second proposed initiative is titled "Eliminates Students' Rights To Participate in School Activities Consistent With Their Gender Identity." This is aimed squarely at trans youth who want to play school sports or take part in other activities. Bonta's office noted that this proposal actually repeals a 2013 state law allowing students to participate in school activities that match their gender identity.

Finally, the third proposal is titled "Prohibits Gender Affirming Health Care For Minors." This, as we've seen in numerous other states this year, would have a chilling effect on trans kids and their families even as California is now a refuge for those fleeing oppressive laws in their states. Governor Gavin Newsom last year signed Senate Bill 107 () by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which makes it California policy to reject any out-of-state court judgments removing trans kids from their parents' custody because they allowed them to receive gender-affirming health care.

All of these measures have to meet a high threshold before they can appear on the ballot. The secretary of state's office has stated that each needs signatures from 546,641 registered voters. That means the proponents will actually need to collect many more signatures to account for ones that are deemed invalid or duplicated, as is standard with signature gathering efforts. The deadline to submit those signatures is April 29.

Decline to sign campaign

During this time, Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, should mount a decline to sign campaign to go on the offense and discourage voters from adding their signatures to the petitions. In a recent phone call Tom Temprano, a gay man who is the managing director of external affairs for the organization, acknowledged that EQCA has not yet launched such an effort. Temprano said that as far as EQCA is aware, there hasn't been much happening on the signature-gathering front by Protect Kids California. But this belies what could be a rather stealth effort taking place in conservative parts of the state. As the holiday season approaches and more people are out shopping, the anti-trans forces could start to appear at malls and other businesses with their clipboards.

Too often, the LGBTQ community has been on the losing end of such initiatives, fighting an uphill — and expensive — battle to persuade public opinion during a campaign. (Case in point, the Proposition 8 campaign back in 2008.) It would be far better if none of these anti-trans initiatives appear on the ballot in the first place. By getting out in front and asking people not to sign these anti-trans initiative petitions, the community would at least have a fighting chance and be able to do some persuading of its own. EQCA should appeal to the fair-mindedness that many California voters exhibit. It should remind the public that decisions on health care are best left to the patient, their families, and medical providers. And it should note that one of those proposed initiatives would repeal an existing state law that has not seen a lot of controversy — until recently, that is.

Prop 8 repeal

One thing voters will weigh in on next November is a state constitutional amendment to repeal the anti-LGBTQ Prop 8 language that is still embedded in the governing document. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 was passed by the Legislature earlier this year, and voters will have the final say. Co-authored by Wiener and gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), ACA 5 is needed because, while marriage equality for same-sex couples has been the law of the land in the Golden State since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, California's constitution still contains outdated and discriminatory language from Prop 8 stating that same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, as Low's website noted.

EQCA is expected to play a big role in this campaign, and if one or more of the anti-trans ballot measures qualifies, it will have a much tougher time marshaling resources to make sure ACA 5 passes — and the anti-trans initiatives fail. It will cost a lot more money and require additional other resources such as campaign volunteers to conduct a battle on two fronts. Ballot fights in California are waged over the airwaves, and television advertising will cost millions of dollars.

Having both the same-sex marriage and anti-trans measures on the same ballot is bound to bring an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to California, one of the most diverse and bluest states in the country. Over a year ago we editorialized about the potential pitfalls of a campaign to repeal Prop 8. Those come into even sharper focus with the possibility of the anti-trans initiatives qualifying for the ballot.

"After all, we certainly do not want a repeat of the No on 8 campaign that made us feel like second-class citizens even as we were fighting for our own right to wed," the editorial board wrote last July. "Although it was 14 years ago and much has changed politically in California since voters decided — by a margin of 52.24% to 47.76% — to forbid same-sex marriage here, we're concerned that there are still broad pockets of conservatives who despise marriage equality. They likely will use arguments similar to what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church did in 2008: position same-sex marriage as bad for children and same-sex couples as groomers, the new boogeymen in today's political discourse. The volatile issue of children and schools was a key centerpiece of the Yes on 8's successful campaign and remains a hot-button topic today, especially with regard to trans kids and their families, which may or may not include same-sex parents but who are still a part of the LGBTQ community."

Now, 15 years after Prop 8's passage, imagine those proposed anti-trans initiatives are on the ballot. We can see the campaign commercials already — scapegoating trans kids and making them out to be freaks: "Boys playing girls sports have no place in California," for example. Or misgendering people. Or portraying supportive teachers as groomers. The list goes on. Kids in schools will take on a whole new importance given that two of the three proposed initiatives address school topics.

What EQCA must do

EQCA leadership may not want to talk much about the proposed anti-trans initiatives, hoping they will just go away. But there's a real possibility that at least one of them will qualify; and that is one too many.

Temprano told us that EQCA is "concerned about how the process unfolds," and that while the majority of Californians support same-sex marriage — 75% according to some April polling EQCA had done — the same doesn't necessarily translate to support for trans kids and their families. National polling from Gallup in June shows a majority of Americans — 69% — want kids to play sports based on the sex assigned at birth. That's up seven points from two years ago, and shows how much work opponents of the proposed initiatives have to do.

EQCA should launch a decline to sign campaign now, initially focusing on the areas where school boards have adopted anti-trans policies. Right now, in addition to Chino Valley in San Bernardino County, those include Orange (Orange County), Rocklin (Placer County), Temecula Valley and Murrieta Valley (Riverside County), and Anderson Union High School District (Shasta County).

EQCA also needs to be proactive in informing its members and Democratic clubs around California about these developments and the real harm that could come to LGBTQ people, especially trans youth and their families — and to raise funds as well. We need supportive allies to step up and speak out, urging people not to sign these ballot initiative petitions. There are LGBTQ elected officials up and down the state — including smaller cities and rural areas — and they are in the best position to talk to their constituents about the detrimental effect these initiatives could bring if they're on the ballot. LGBTQ candidates running in 2024 should also start talking about the dangers these proposals create for the trans community.

Our best chance for success in combating these proposed anti-trans initiatives is making sure they don't qualify for the ballot. The sooner those efforts begin, the better.

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