As culture wars escalate, California officials push back on conservative school board policies


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As culture wars escalate


California’s culture wars escalated Monday as the state sued a school district over its transgender student policy, and a parents’ group took the first step toward placing a trio of initiatives on next year’s ballot that would restrict protections for transgender youth.

‘Desperate attempt to stop us’

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond attended the meeting to protest the policy, but police escorted him out when he spoke longer than his allotted time.

Assemblymember Bill Essayli, a Corona Republican, speaks during a press conference at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 28, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters.

Chino Valley Unified was among the state’s first districts to enact such a policy, which is based on a bill that’s currently stalled in the Legislature. Assembly Bill 1314, proposed by Assemblymember Bill Essayli, a Republican from Riverside, would have reversed the state’s current policy of protecting the privacy of LGBTQ students who might not be “out” at home. Because the chair of the Assembly education committee, Al Muratsuchi, declined to schedule the bill for a hearing, Essayli said he would contact school boards directly and urge them to pursue the issue.

Since then, three other districts — Anderson Union High School District in Shasta County, and Murrieta Valley Unified and Temecula Valley Unified  in Riverside County — have adopted similar policies. Several others have proposals in the works.

Going to the voters in 2024

The group has until April to gather close to 550,000 signatures per initiative to qualify for the ballot.

At a press conference Monday afternoon on the steps of the Capitol, backers of the initiatives said they were eager to return rights to parents, who they say are best suited to help their children.

“What we are concerned with is who gets to raise our kids, who gets to raise the next generation of students in the state of California,” Essayli said. “Is it the government or is it their parents?”

Impacts on young people

LGBTQ groups said both efforts — the proposed initiatives and the school board actions — are deeply harmful to LGBTQ students, and the state is right to intervene. The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found that 10% of transgender people had faced violence from a family member due to their gender identity, and 15% had run away or been forced from their homes. In general, LGBTQ youth are more prone to depression and anxiety and are four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers, according to the Trevor Project, which advocates for LGBTQ youth.

“These anti-LGBTQ policies are spreading like wildfire, and people need to realize the harmful impact that these policies have on young people,” said Jorge Reyes Salinas, communications director for Equality California, a civil rights organization focusing on LGBTQ issues. “It’s imperative that the state take action. … We’re grateful that Bonta filed this suit to uphold the rights and dignity of LGBTQ students.”

He said he’s confident the ballot initiatives will fail, saying that most Californians oppose “hate and discrimination, especially when it comes to LGBTQ students. But we are ready to continue fighting, and we’re not going to stop until we’re victorious.”

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