California lawmakers send student gender notification bill to Newsom after explosive Assembly debate

After a chaotic debate on the Assembly floor full of shouting and tears, California lawmakers on Thursday sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill that would ban schools from requiring teachers to notify parents about changes to a student’s gender identity.

The 61-16 vote came after a lengthy and emotional back-and-forth between Democrats, who said the bill is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ youth, and Republicans, who said it would infringe on the student-parent relationship.

AB 1955 by Assemblymember Christopher M. Ward (D-San Diego) would shield teachers from retaliation for supporting transgender student rights and prohibit school policies that require “forced disclosure” of youth gender decisions to their families.

The legislation responds to a wave of conservative-backed school board policies that have sought to notify parents if their child changes their name or pronouns, or if students request to use facilities or participate in programs that don’t match their gender on official records.

Implementation of those policies are held up in court. But Democrats said Thursday that legislation is necessary to safeguard transgender K-12 students who may not feel safe at home to come out to their parents. They cited high bullying and suicide rates of transgender youth.

“It’s not the job of teachers to be the gender police. They want to teach, and they want to be able to provide a safe and supportive environment. And when they do, students will thrive,” a tearful Ward said on the Assembly floor, surrounded by his Democratic colleagues who stood in support of the bill. “Nothing in this bill gets involved in the parent-child relationship.”

The vote came after combative opposition from Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Corona), who opposed the measure over concerns about “parental rights” and accused Democrats of fear mongering.

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) repeatedly cut Essayli’s microphone during the debate and ruled that he was “out of order” for speaking about other legislation during his testimony against AB 1955, as well as for “disparaging the house.”

“I am tired of being interrupted by you,” Essayli told Wood.

Essayli, who compared state Democrats to the “Chinese Communist Party,” responded by attempting to block the testimony of his Democratic colleagues.

The floor debate was disrupted by several procedural votes required in order to cut Essayli’s time. The Democratic caucus ultimately paused the vote to take a recess after Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Perris) was physically restrained by his colleagues to stop him from confronting Essayli on the Assembly floor.

“I went blank. I lost it,” Jackson told The Times. “I don’t think sometimes that my Republican colleagues understand that for some bills, this is not about policy. This is about acknowledging people’s humanity. So of course it’s personal.”

Jackson said he apologized to his fellow lawmakers for the distraction and that he did not speak to Essayli about the matter.

“We stand with you. We do not want anyone to be bullied or hurt or erased or any of this stuff,” Essayli said after ultimately being allowed to speak on the floor about the bill. “When a child is going through this, it’s a very difficult and emotional time…. We do not believe that the government — the schools — have any authority to withhold information from parents at all, period.”

Several members of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus shared their own coming out stories in support of the bill and their experiences with unsupportive families.

Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City) said a teacher was the one to tell her that her child is transgender. She was “disappointed” by that teacher’s judgment.

“If my teacher had told my parents … I don’t know if I would’ve survived that day, because that was the level of abuse that was happening in my home,” Wilson said. “I don’t care how old you are. That is a personal decision.”

Newsom will have 12 days to sign or veto the bill, which cleared the Senate 29-8, once it officially hits his desk.

The Democratic governor is a staunch LGBTQ+ advocate. He signed a bill in 2022 that named California a sanctuary for transgender children and their families seeking healthcare and support they can’t get in red states.

But he shocked LGBTQ+ advocates when he vetoed a bill last year that would have required judges in custody battles to consider a parent’s support for their child’s gender identity. In a veto message, he said, “I urge caution when the executive and legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate — in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic — legal standards for the judicial branch to apply.”

Newsom does not typically comment on pending legislation.

When asked about the issue last year, he told The Times that he understands parents’ concerns but said that the school board policies are being used as a guise by Republicans to “bully” the LGBTQ+ community.

The governor, a father of four, said he “draws the line” at requiring teachers to “out” students.

“I take very seriously the work I do as a parent at home to meet their needs, and I don’t honestly expect teachers to sub my role as a parent,” Newsom said in November. “I want them to teach my kids, and I want them to keep them safe and make them feel included and not outed.”

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