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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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California Senate passes bill prohibiting ‘forced outing’ of students

The legislation now heads to a final vote in the Assembly, where it will proceed to the governor's desk if passed.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Years ago, when California state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman was in high school, the principal called her father about her boyfriend.

The person she was dating was Black, Eggman said, and the principal chose to contact her parent over the issue.

The Stockton Democrat, now openly gay, argued Thursday on the Senate floor that Assembly Bill 1955 would prohibit exchanges like that.

“Schools cannot pass policies that mandate teachers become the gender police for students,” Eggman said.

The bill doesn’t focus on race, like in Eggman’s example, but instead is about school officials contacting parents over gender issues. Called the "forced outing" bill, it passed the Senate floor on Thursday and now proceeds to the Assembly for concurrence of Senate amendments. If it passes the Assembly, it’ll go to the governor’s desk.

The legislation has three main functions, Eggman said. Schools would be prohibited from having a policy that requires disclosure of a student’s gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression without that student’s consent. It would restrict school systems from punishing teachers who refuse to obey such policies. And it would reinforce a student’s right to privacy.

The bill — written by Assemblymember Chris Ward, a San Diego Democrat and member of the LGBTQ caucus — has drawn controversy and heated debate. Introduced early this year, it comes in the wake of a handful of local school systems that have adopted policies which require parental notification if a child identifies as transgender.

Supporters say that someone who chooses to reveal that aspect of themselves shouldn’t be outed against their will. Opponents have argued the legislation creates secrecy between a child and parent, and that court challenges will lead to costly penalties for the state.

Republicans offered resistance to the bill. State Senator Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican, said his opposition stemmed from concerns over local control. He wants local school boards to decide their policy, not the state.

The issue came down to parental rights for state Senator Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican.

“We haven’t talked about the rights of parents,” he said, adding that he wanted language in the bill stating a school official could speak to a student about that child talking to their parents. “It doesn’t say that.”

State Senator John Laird — a Santa Cruz Democrat and, like Eggman and Ward, member of the LGBTQ caucus — pushed back on the argument over local control. He referred to what local control meant in the Jim Crow South: Blacks facing barriers to vote and fears of being lynched.

For state Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat and also a member of the LGBTQ caucus, it was about personal choice. He argued it is the student’s business, and no one else, when they decide to tell their parents.

Ward, the bill’s author, has said that LGBTQ+ youth have the right to decide when they come out and to whom. In a committee hearing last month, Ward said disclosing to some people does not equal coming out to everyone. It’s a decision that’s made by the person for different groups and settings.

In a bill analysis, Ward pointed to a 2021 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. That survey found 76.1% of LGBTQ students faced verbal harassment, 31.2% were physically harassed and 12.5% were assaulted over their sexual orientation. Almost 82% of LGBTQ students in the survey said they had felt unsafe in school.

Eggman told senators that schools should not be the conduit for discussion between child and parent over these issues. Additionally, the bill has no effect on existing law that gives parents the right to examine their child’s educational file.

“Teachers want to teach,” Ward said at a Monday Senate Appropriations Committee. “They don’t want to be the gender police.”

Categories / Civil Rights, Education, Government, Politics, Regional

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