Ward revives bill to ban forced outing of trans students

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 21, 2024
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Assemblymember Chris Ward introduces his SAFETY Act at a May 22 news conference. Photo: Courtesy Ward's office<br><br><br>
Assemblymember Chris Ward introduces his SAFETY Act at a May 22 news conference. Photo: Courtesy Ward's office

A state lawmaker has revived his bill aimed at prohibiting California school officials from outing transgender students to their parents or guardians without their permission. It comes as other LGBTQ-related bills advance out of their house of origin in the Legislature.

Wednesday gay state Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) announced he was using what is known as the gut-and-amend option to rewrite his Assembly Bill 1955 so it now would ban the forced outing of transgender students in the state by public school officials unless they determine doing so is in the best interest of the youth. It is titled the SAFETY Act for Support Academic Futures & Educators for Today's Youth Act.

If enacted into state law, it would supersede any such policies adopted by school districts and make them null and void. The bill also includes a provision protecting teachers who oppose such policies from retaliation by school district officials.

It would still allow school employees to disclose such information if they believe it will benefit a student who is experiencing a mental health issue or is at risk to themselves or others and requires additional support or services other than what the school can provide them.

"It affirms any teacher or employee of a school district shall not be required to disclose any other person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression without the person's consent unless they determine they need to do so in the interest of the student's safety," Ward told the Bay Area Reporter during a phone interview Tuesday.

He had withdrawn the legislation last fall due to hearing from educators who wanted to see its language refined.

"A common thread in our conversations with educators was teachers want to teach and not be the gender police," Ward had told the B.A.R. during an interview in December. "They said their main concern is that students can be safe in their classrooms and learn to their full potential."

At the time Ward said he was also closely watching a lawsuit California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed against a Southern California school district in San Bernardino County that adopted such an outing policy. The Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education rescinded it in March after the San Bernardino County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction order against it carrying out the transphobic policy.

Yet, because school officials have continued to say the policy is needed, Bonta is now seeking a final judgment to ensure the district cannot adopt it in the future.

"It took a lawsuit and court order to get Chino Valley to rescind their discriminatory forced outing policy, but even now, the board has continued to assert that it was lawful, and board members continue to echo the anti-trans rhetoric they relied upon when passing it," Bonta stated in late April. "Today's motion seeks to ensure no child becomes a target again by blocking Chino Valley Unified from ever adopting another forced outing policy."

In January, Bonta had issued a legal alert to other school district leaders "warning them against forced gender identity disclosure policies detrimental to the privacy, safety, and well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students."

"As we continue to defend the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students, I urge all school districts to take note and ensure every student can enjoy their right to learn and thrive in a school environment that promotes safety, privacy, and inclusivity," stated Bonta.

In April the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board rescinded its forced outing policy. As the Los Angeles Blade reported, it had been warned by the California Department of Education that the policy violated the state's education codes.

Ward told the B.A.R. his office is aware of seven lawsuits that have been filed in either state or federal court pertaining to the outing policies. While some seek to overturn those already adopted by school boards, others have been filed by parents or school employees in support of seeing their schools implement the policies.

"Everyone is attacking the issue from so many different directions. It is why we felt compelled to jump in at the moment," said Ward, who sees his bill as a way for the state to adopt a definitive policy for public school districts to follow.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks. Under its former version, AB 1955 had passed out of the Assembly April 24 on a 75-0 vote with five abstentions.

Meanwhile, an anti-trans parental group has until May 28 to qualify for the fall ballot a statewide proposition supportive of the outing policy, in addition to banning gender-affirming care for minors; preventing trans women and girls from participating in women's sports; and repealing a state law allowing trans students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. As of April, it had only collected 25% of the signatures it needed, according to the Secretary of State's office.

LGBTQ bills advance

In Sacramento, legislation that would require various medical boards in the state to expedite medical licensure for gender-affirming care will now be taken up by the state Senate. It was adopted by the Assembly May 13 on a 62-10 vote with eight abstentions.

Gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Hollywood) authored AB 2442, the Increasing Access to Gender-Affirming Care bill. His aim is to ensure there is "a robust network of providers" in California who can provide care to out-of-state transgender patients coming to the Golden State because their home state has banned doctors from providing gender-affirming health care.

"As these bans on crucial services like health care go into effect, California must be prepared to provide this vital care and serve as a beacon of hope to LGBTQ+ and transgender communities experiencing this discrimination and cruelty," stated Zbur. "AB 2442 allows for qualified providers to be quickly licensed to treat transgender residents in California, and transgender visitors seeking refuge."

Monday, May 20, state senators passed on a 32-1 vote with seven abstentions Senate Bill 990 that would require the governor's Office of Emergency Services, known as Cal-OES, to consult with LGBTQ+ organizations and community advocates on updating the State Emergency Plan by January 1, 2027. Author gay state Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) wants to see the document include policies and best practices for how local governments and nongovernmental entities can equitably serve LGBTQ+ communities during an emergency or natural disaster.

"Our state policies and guidelines must serve all Californians equitably," stated Padilla. "In the aftermath of a disaster, people need to know that they are going to get the care and services they need, without the fear of discrimination or the shadow of prejudice. When people are at their most vulnerable, it is at the very core of our values to be there to render aid, no matter who they love."

A bill requiring whoever is California's governor to annually proclaim December 1 as World AIDS Day is now moving over to the Assembly to be voted on. The state Senate passed it May 13 on a 36-0 vote.

Gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) authored SB 1278, which is one of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus's priority bills this session. Having a gubernatorial proclamation in support of the annual observance will signify California's continued commitment to the fight against HIV, contended Laird as for why he introduced the bill.

As of 2022, 142,772 Californians were living with an HIV infection diagnosis, according to an annual report by the California Department of Public Health. In that same year, 4,882 Californians were newly diagnosed with HIV, and 2,169 Californians with HIV infections died.

Yet, unlike with countless other days recognized with gubernatorial proclamations, one for World AIDS Day is not issued. Last December marked the first time the dome of the State Capitol was lit red for World AIDS Day since its founding in 1988, according to Laird's office.

"When I was executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency in the 1980s, my mission was to keep people alive," Laird recalled. "We are 40 years into the AIDS epidemic, and it is clear our efforts to educate and spread awareness are as important as ever. World AIDS Day allows us to stand with those currently living with an HIV or AIDS diagnosis and honor all the lives we have lost."

More LGBTQ-focused bills are expected to be adopted out of the two chambers this week. Lawmakers have a May 24 deadline to do so ahead of their Memorial Day break.

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