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California legal duel: 'Unsupportive parent' custody bill OK'd as schools work to inform parents

Six public school districts have instituted policies requiring that parents be notified if their children are transitioning genders. At the same time, a bill requiring family court judges to take into account a parent's "affirmation" of a gender-transitioning child in custody battles is headed to Gov. Newsom's desk for signing.

Published: September 13, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: September 14, 2023 9:52am

As California passes a law to require judges to consider whether parents support the gender transitioning of their children in custody cases, public school districts are instituting policies to notify parents of students who are transitioning.

On Friday, the California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 957 after the state Senate had previously passed it, which requires judges in custody cases to take into consideration whether the parents are supportive of their children’s gender transitioning.

“This bill, for purposes of this provision, would include a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity as part of the health, safety, and welfare of the child,” the legislation reads.

The bill amends a section of the state Family Code regarding “the best interests of the child,” adding “comprehensive factors” that include “a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or gender expression.”

California State Rep. Lori Wilson (D) authored the bill, titled the Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex Youth Empowerment Act, and said from the Assembly floor, “[P]arents affirm their children, they have since the dawn of time."

“Typically, it happens when their gender identity expression matches their biological gender,” she continued. “But what happens is, when it doesn't, that's when the affirmation starts to wane, and that's what we're dealing with here. Although it's called the TGI bill, they're not mentioned anywhere in the law. What's mentioned in the law is the child's gender identity and expression and the parents affirmation of that, whatever it is, because that is our duty as parents to affirm our children.”

On Friday, Elon Musk reacted to the bill on X, formerly Twitter, writing, “This bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What it would actually mean is that if you disagree with the other parent about sterilizing your child, you lose custody. Utter madness!”

Meanwhile, public school districts are passing policies to require school officials to notify parents of students who are changing their name, pronouns, or activities to identify with the opposite sex.

Six public school districts have instituted policies require that parents be notified if their child talks about suicide, is involved in violence, or asks to identify with or use school facilities or participate in programs that are for a gender contrary to what is on their official records.

Orange Unified School District is the most recent and largest California school district to adopt such policies, after voting on the issue Thursday. The other districts that preceded Orange Unified School District are Rocklin Unified School District, Temecula Valley Unified, Anderson Union High School District, Murrieta Valley Unified School District, and Chino Valley Unified School District.

Buckeye Union School District is also considering parental notification policies after representatives from the El Dorado County GOP presented the notion during a board of trustees meeting last week.

One of the representatives told the Mountain Democrat news outlet that they were also communicating with four other school districts: "El Dorado Union High School District, Rescue, Gold Oak and Mother Lode."

The parental notification policies have been modeled after Assembly Bill 1314, which was proposed by California State Rep. Bill Essayli (R) in April but failed to receive a committee hearing.

The first district to adopt a parental notification policy was Chino Valley Unified School District in July, which is being sued by the state attorney general for allegedly violating the California Constitution.

Last Wednesday, a California judge temporarily blocked the school district’s policy, with a hearing scheduled for Oct. 13 regarding a full preliminary injunction.

"While this fight is far from over, today's ruling takes a significant step towards ensuring the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of transgender and gender-nonconforming students," California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a press release last Wednesday after the court ruling.

"As we continue challenging the policy in court, my office will continue providing our unwavering support to ensure every student has the right to learn and thrive in a school environment that promotes safety, privacy, and inclusivity" the statement added.

Bonta argued in the State's lawsuit that the parental notification policy puts "transgender and gender-nonconforming students in danger of imminent, irreparable harm" because of "forced disclosures" and puts them in a position to receive disparate treatment and harassment.

The judge’s temporary order was dismissed as “the opinion of one state court judge,” by Assemblyman Bill Essayli, an outspoken supporter of such policies who introduced a bill to make them state law earlier this year. That bill died without a hearing.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Essayli said that "this matter will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court," and in the meantime he encourages other California school districts “to continue their deliberative process and to not be deterred by the Attorney General’s intimidation tactics we saw displayed in court today.”

As for the Assembly Bill, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to sign the legislation into law, as he had previously signed a bill into law last year that protected parents from out of state who are getting transgender medical procedures for their children.

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