On Privacy and “Parental Rights”: The Wave of Forced Outing in California School Districts

“The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home.”

– Rob Bonta (CA Attorney General)

On July 20, the Chino Valley Unified School District–representing nearly 26,000 students–passed a bill mandating schools to notify parents of any pronoun or name changes on legal school documents. Since then, three districts–Anderson Union High School District, Murrieta Valley Unified, and Temecula Valley Unified–have already passed similar bills and many others are in the works.

A Broader Trend Towards Conservatism

The debate between parental/religious rights and queer rights is centuries-old but it has been revitalized since the onset of Creative LLC vs. Elenis and Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills. California permits all school districts to create their own policies and unfortunately, some districts have already begun to test the limits of this freedom. With a 6-3 skew towards conservative justices on the Supreme Court, queerphobic legislation has unfortunately been gaining traction and necessitates a serious discussion.

A Harmful Toll on Students

Proponents of the policy have argued that “parents know best” and as such, it is essential that they have a say in the decision making process of their children. Unfortunately, recent court rulings provide notable precedent for this case.

However, the policy will only do more harm than good. America is built on the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That includes the freedom to live life freely–something that outing laws inhibit. Many transgender folks already have to suppress their identities at home. Forcing them to do so at school, too, is likely the final straw.

In response, board member Madison Miner responds saying that “A parent is a child’s best advocate.” The Trevor Project, however, found evidence to the contrary. According to their survey, 10% of transgender youth faced violence from their family due to their gender identity and 15% ran away from home. Not every parent is accepting or understanding of a child’s identity, and therefore cannot dictate how the student should live their life.

Furthermore, forced outing is not an extension of parental rights, but rather a violation. By mandating educators to out their students, it imposes the government into family matters. If parents have a right to run the household and take responsibility for family matters, who is the government to impose?

Next Steps: Actions Being Taken

On August 28, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified, citing three specific violations: 1) California’s Equal Protection Clause, 2) California’s Education and Government Code, and 3) California’s constitutional right to privacy.

The bill is inherently discriminatory towards transgender folks by magnifying unsafe home situations and disrespecting the federal right of a person’s privacy for personal matters.

In response, Chino school board president Sonja Shaw seems undaunted by the lawsuit–claiming that the policy is legally sound and court precedent supports parental rights. Keep in mind that this policy is passed by the same board members who blatantly called being transgender a “mental illness.” Shaw elaborates on this by arguing that nonbinary students need “non-affirming” parents to help them “get better.” The policy is clearly based on discriminatory attitudes–both in intent and application.

Beyond the lawsuit, CA governor Gavin Newsom and fellow Democratic lawmakers are working with the school districts to create a more equitable, moderate policy. Little details have been released, so all we can do is wait.

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