By Sikivu Hutchinson
This week, California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, the head of the Assembly’s Education Committee, refused to schedule a hearing for AB1314, a bill that would have required school officials to notify parents when a child identified as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Muratsuchi slammed the bill for being “bad policy” and potentially harmful to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students. Days before, the Chino Valley Unified school board in San Bernardino county (which has no legislative say over the bill) voted to approve the bill on a 4-1 vote.
The bill, which was introduced in February by conservative Republican California Assembly members Bill Essayli and James Gallagher, would have revised student privacy protections guaranteed under the California Education Code, allowing adults on school campuses to police and potentially surveil youth. Such a precedent would fundamentally compromise the few safe spaces that exist on California campuses for queer youth. Nationwide, lack of family acceptance is a leading driver of homelessness among trans and queer youth. The implications of AB1314 were quickly seized on by LGBTQ-affirming activists and policymakers. Shortly after it was introduced, officials from the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus released a statement condemning it for the “potentially life threatening danger…(trauma and violence)” it could subject queer students to.
When it comes to protections for LGBTQ+ and gender expansive communities, California is one of the most liberal in the nation. Defenders of queer rights on the West Coast have supported the fight against the epic rash of homophobic and transphobic legislation sweeping the South and Midwest. Current California law protects gender expansive, gender fluid, and trans students from the harm of nonconsensual disclosure of their gender identities to parents or guardians.
The authors of AB1314 are part of a dangerous white Christian nationalist movement that has seized upon so-called “parental rights” to destroy protections for queer and gender expansive youth in state government. Thus, while California does indeed have some of the most LGBTQ+ affirming laws in the nation, it is not surprising that conservative forces in red counties are following the lead of fascists in the South and Midwest. Over the past year, religious right zealots in California have been emboldened by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs Wade, as well as right wing attacks on critical race theory, multicultural and LGBTQ+-affirming books, and anti-racist education. And, although California’s Fair Education Act requires that LGBT-affirming social history and literature be incorporated into middle and high school curricula, only 30% of schools actually adhere to these requirements.
Mindful of this, for the past four years, students in the Women’s Leadership Project program have conducted GLSEN (Gay/Lesbian Student Education Network) campus climate surveys to assess LGBTQ+ inclusivity at South L.A. schools. The surveys measure campuses’ provision of safe spaces, curricula, adult support, and literature that affirm and support queer and gender expansive students. The surveys also assess LGBTQ+ students’ experiences with homophobia and transphobia on campus, and whether adults and students intervene to disrupt anti-LGBTQ+ microaggressions. Their findings indicate that there is rampant and normalized homophobia on campus. The long term effects of homophobic toxicity on middle and high school queer mental health outcomes is borne out by the findings in a recent CDC report. Based on responses from over 70,000 youth, the report indicates that queer teens are experiencing record levels of sadness, hopelessness, and depression. One in five queer youth have attempted suicide, and a significant number have left school due to bullying and harassment. These traumas are also being experienced by girls across sexuality. According to the CDC, both queer youth and girls report experiencing violence at much higher levels than cisgender boys.
Although AB1314 has been waylaid for now, it is a dangerous bellwether for anti-LGBT militancy in California. The national climate of homophobic and transphobic religious bigotry targeting drag performers, queer books, and gender-affirming care is intensifying trauma, fear, and shame among queer youth and families in this state. That is why it’s imperative for folks in California to mobilize to protect queer youth by providing care, opposing odious “parental rights” legislation, and pressing for queer-affirming spaces that validate the intersectional lived experiences of LGBTQ+ and gender expansive youth in communities of color. This is especially important given that our communities are frequently excluded from national discussions about queer rights. As with futile GOP efforts to pass anti-abortion policy in California, AB1314 will not be the last time that homophobic/transphobic legislators attempt to impose their fascistic agenda onto the state. It’s up to people of conscience to ensure that California schools remain free of Bible Belt hate and tyranny.