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‘Forced outing’: School board sued over ‘gender notification’ policy targeting LGBTQ+ kids


California Attorney General Rob Bonta fields questions during a press conference Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. California’s attorney general sued a Southern California school district Monday over its recently adopted policy that requires schools to notify parents if their children change their gender identification or pronouns. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez). Inset: Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up signs in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ policies at Don Antonio Lugo High School, on Thursday, June 15, 2023. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul/The Orange County Register via AP)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has sued the Chino Valley Unified School District in hopes of stopping a new school policy in the district that he argues forcefully “outs” students by requiring parents to receive notification if their child changes their gender identity in school.

The 23-page lawsuit describes Chino Valley’s nascent disclosure policy as “unconstitutional” and an effective blight on on students’ fundamental rights to an education; particularly those students who are transgender, gender non-conforming or those whose gender expression and identity differs from their gender-conforming peers.

The policy in question was adopted by the Chino Valley District School Board on July 20 and at a recent press conference, Bonta said it “tramples on students’ rights” because it demands that parents are notified within three days if an employee of the school becomes aware that a student has asked to identify or be treated as a gender other than the one listed on their official ID.

“[The policy] requires school personnel to log and officially document the forced outing of a transgender or gender nonconforming student,” the lawsuit says, adding that the policy orders employees “who make such notification [to] either keep a record of such notification (if written) or document such notification (if verbal) and place the record or documentation in the student’s official student information system.”

The policy also dictates that parents are to be alerted if their child uses bathrooms not assigned to the gender listed on their official records or if they seek out access to team sports for children opposite of their officially listed gender.

Champions of the policy, including Sonja Shaw, president of the Chino Valley Board, say the lawsuit from Bonta is unsurprising. Shaw told the Associated Press that this was the state of California’s latest bid to “shut parents out of their children’s lives.”

Parents, Shaw said, had a “constitutional right in the upbringing of their children.”

But Bonta contends that schools should be a safe place for children to express themselves and that this often isn’t the case for transgender kids or gender non-conforming kids at home.

“For far too many transgender children and gender non-confirming youth, school serves as their only safe haven — a place away from home where they can find validation, safety, privacy. We have to protect that,” he said at a recent press conference.

According to the lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to halt the policy, Bonta argues that Chino Valley, located on the western edge of Southern California’s so-called “Inland Empire” some 40 miles east of Los Angeles, has placed transgender and gender non-conforming students “in danger of imminent, irreparable harm from the consequences of forced disclosures.”

“These students are currently under threat of being outed to their parents or guardians against their express wishes and will. They are in real fear that the district’s policy will force them to make a choice: either ‘walk back’ their constitutionally and statutorily protected rights to gender identity and expression, or face the risk of emotional, physical, and psychological harm from non-affirming or unaccepting parents or guardians,” the complaint states.

The policy in Chino Valley was no mistake, Bonta adds.

“This is by design: the Board’s plain motivations in adopting policy 5020.1 were to create and harbor animosity, discrimination, and prejudice towards these transgender and gender non-conforming students, without any compelling reason to do so,” he wrote.

Citing a 2019 report studying the experience of students across almost 3,000 California schools in grades seven, nine and eleven, Bonta noted that transgender students in California reported higher negative experiences and worse mental health at higher rates than any other sexual orientation subgroups. A study from 2015 showed that over 40% of transgender students reported being bullied because of their gender identity, versus just 7.3% of non-transgender students who reported gender-based bullying.

“While many transgender or gender non-conforming you are fortunate to have parents or guardians who are accepting of their gender identity, others are not so lucky,” the lawsuit notes.

According to the U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015, 10% of respondents polled said an immediate family member was violent towards them because of their identity; 15% reported running away from home or being kicked out of the home because of their identity. In 2022, the Trevor Project conducted a survey of its own, finding that fewer than one in three transgender and gender nonbinary youth deemed their homes “affirming.”

A member of the California Republican Assembly — which has led the charge to upend gender affirming policies in the Golden State — Bill Essayli, told the AP that there are already “a lot of systems in place to deal with the physical abuse of any minor” and that he thinks its inherently wrong for California to presume that parents are a danger to their children and therefore craft “a blanket policy where they’re going to withhold information from all parents under the auspice that some parents might be harmful to their kids.”

A representative for Chino Valley Unified Schools did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

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