CA AG Bonta issues alert to school districts on forced outing policies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday January 12, 2024
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California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Photo: Courtesy CA AG's office
California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Photo: Courtesy CA AG's office

California Attorney General Rob Bonta on January 10 issued a legal alert addressed to all California county, school district, and charter school boards and superintendents, warning them against forced gender identity disclosure policies detrimental to the privacy, safety, and well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The move comes as Bonta's Department of Justice is suing the Chino Valley Unified School District over its forced outing policy. A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge in October granted a preliminary injunction against two major portions of the school district's policy, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Several school districts around the state have adopted similar policies, which require that staff out students to their parents without their consent for identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming, as well as for accessing sex-segregated programs and activities that align with their gender.

A news release from Bonta's office noted, "Such policies also require notification if a student requests to use facilities or participates in programs that do not align with their sex on official records."

In the alert, Bonta reminded all school boards that these forced gender identity disclosure policies violate the California Constitution and state laws safeguarding students' civil rights.

"Unconstitutional school policies that forcibly out and endanger the psychological and emotional well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students have no place in our classrooms," Bonta stated. "Today's alert serves as a reminder to all school officials of their duty to ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment, particularly for our most vulnerable student populations susceptible to violence and harassment. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue safeguarding the civil rights of all students."

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, praised Bonta's action.

"As LGBTQ+ students head back to school in the new year, Attorney General Bonta is reassuring them that the California Department of Justice has their backs," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang, a gay man. "In 2023, we saw an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from far-right extremists in California that led to direct attacks on our youth in the form of forced outing policies that out transgender students without their consent and attempts to censor or ban books and curriculum that so much as mention LGBTQ+ people. Already vulnerable young people should not be subject to even greater harassment and harm in their learning environments."

Hoang noted that the alert puts school officials on notice.

"These legal alerts put those who seek to violate or roll back the rights of LGBTQ+ youth on notice that doing so violates these students' constitutional and legal protections and will not be tolerated in California," he added. "The attorney general has been a steadfast ally in combating these efforts by anti-LGBTQ+ extremists, and we are grateful to him and to our legislative allies in Sacramento who have consistently worked to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ students in California."

Possible anti-trans initiative

In related news, California voters may face a massive anti-trans ballot measure in November that would mandate forced outing policies by requiring schools to notify parents if a student asks to be treated as a gender that doesn't match their school records. The initiative, spearheaded by Protect Kids California, would also ban gender-affirming care for minors; prevent trans women and girls from participating in women's sports; and repeal a state law allowing trans students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Bonta's office has titled the initiative "Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth." Protect Kids California is unhappy with the ballot title and has stated it would sue the AG's office.

The secretary of state's office has cleared the proposal for signature gathering and proponents have until late May to collect over 500,000 valid signatures.

So far, EQCA has not announced a decline to sign campaign to dissuade people from signing the petitions. EQCA declined to comment Friday.

In his alert, Bonta stressed that forced gender identity disclosure policies infringe on several state protections safeguarding students' civil and constitutional rights, including:

California's Equal Protection Clause: These policies unlawfully discriminate against and single out students who request to identify with or use names or pronouns different from those on their birth certificates, or who access programs or facilities that, in the view of the board, are not "aligned" with the student's gender.

California's Education and Government Code: Education is a fundamental right in California, and California Education Code Sections 200 and 220 and Government Code section 11135 also ensure equal rights and opportunities for every student by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Forced disclosure policies violate these fundamental anti-discrimination protections.

California's constitutional right to privacy: California's constitution expressly protects the right to "privacy," including both "informational privacy," and "autonomy privacy," and policies that mandates outing transgender and gender-nonconforming students against their wishes or without their consent violates that right.

Bonta's release also noted that research shows that protecting a transgender student's ability to make choices about how and when to inform others is critical to their well-being, as transgender students are exposed to high levels of harassment and mistreatment at school and in their communities when those environments are not supportive of their gender identity.

One-in-10 respondents in a 2015 national survey said that an immediate family member had been violent toward them because they were transgender, and 15% ran away from home or were kicked out of their home because they were transgender, the AG's office stated. Fewer than one-in-three transgender and gender nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming.

According to Bonta's office, nearly 46% of transgender students reported missing at least one day of school in the preceding month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable there and 17% of transgender students reported that they left a K-12 school due to the severity of the harassment they experienced at school.

Seventy-seven percent of students known or perceived as transgender reported negative experiences such as harassment and assault, and over half of transgender and nonbinary youth reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, the release added.

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