California bill would compel teachers to out transgender students to their parents

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California teachers, counselors and other school employees who learn that a student is publicly identifying as transgender would be forced to inform that student’s parents, under a bill proposed by Assemblyman Bill Essayli, R-Riverside.

Assembly Bill 1314 gives school employees three days to notify parents in writing if they learn that a student is publicly identifying as transgender, such as by participating in gender-segregated sports programs or using bathroom facilities for a gender other than the one appearing on their birth certificate.

“Parents are not spectators of their kids. They’re parents, and responsible for their well-being,” Essayli told The Bee in an interview.

Essayli said that he was approached with the idea for the bill by the conservative, Fresno-based California Family Council, which he said is a sponsor of the legislation. The lawmaker said that while the group came to his office with broad and sweeping language, he decided to introduce a narrow and tailored measure.

Essayli said the bill was inspired by several instances of teachers being told by schools not to tell parents that a student is transgender. A conservative law firm has filed a lawsuit against Chico Unified School District, alleging that the school helped a student transition their gender identity without informing the parents.

The lawmaker called his bill “a reset” for the relationship between schools and parents. Though his bill touches on a sensitive topic, Essayli said he doesn’t view it as controversial.

In a Twitter thread about the bill, Essayli wrote that “children are the domain of their parents, not the government.”

Asked about concerns for students who have deliberately chosen to withhold their gender identity from their parents, Essayli said, “My bigger concern is the mental health and well-being of the minor.”

He cited a February 2023 study published by the Society for Research in Child Development that found parental support of LGBTQ youths leads to fewer symptoms of depression.

Transgender youths often have reason to keep their gender identity a secret from their parents.

Transgender and other gender-nonconforming adolescents are more likely to experience physical, psychological and sexual abuse than their gender-conforming peers, according to an August 2021 study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

Fewer than a third (32%) of transgender and nonbinary youths said they view their home as a gender-affirming place, according to a 2022 survey by the LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project.

Essayli said that in cases of abuse, teachers are mandated reporters, if they learn that it is happening. The lawmaker said that while there are some cases of abuse at home, “that can’t be the default position that we’re going to keep parents in the dark because they might abuse their kids.”

“Who has the best interest of the child in mind?” Essayli asked, then answered that it is parents and not teachers.

The bill faces long odds in a Democratic-supermajority-controlled Legislature. But Essayli pointed out that Democrats appeared poised to pass a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for grade school students, only for that effort to falter.

“We’ll see, I think parents are a very powerful voice,” Essayli said.

Essayli’s bill has been condemned by LGBTQ lawmakers and advocacy organizations, including Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Equality California.

In a tweet Monday morning, Wiener called the legislation “a DeSantis-style bill,” referring to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, that compels teachers and counselors to inform parents of their child’s gender identity “even if the kid isn’t ready to come out to their parents. Even if ratting the kid out risks violence at home.”

“Nope, not in (California),” Wiener added.

Essayli responded in a tweet, writing, “My bill is aimed at supporting trans minors, not hurting them. The notification requirement is only triggered when a minor is already publicly identifying by a different gender at school.”

Jorge Reyes Salinas of the group Equality California, which advocates on LGBTQ issues and produces a “Safe and Supportive Schools Repord Card,” called AB 1314 “another part of the continuous culture war attacks” on LGBTQ people, in an interview with The Bee.

“Let’s be quite clear what this bill is. It’s forced outing,” Salinas said.

Conversations between parent and child over gender identity should happen on the child’s own terms, Salinas said, adding that this bill removes the child’s agency and essentially turns teachers into “gender police.”

“For many trans kids, school really is the only place where they feel safe to be themselves,” Salinas said.