Courtesy of Emily Mata / The Highlander

Earlier this May, a California Legislature bill was introduced to end school district policies that require parents to be notified if a student attempts any gender-related social transition. This policy includes any attempt to change a child’s name or pronouns, and any “requests to use facilities” or “participate in any programs that don’t match the gender” listed on their official documents. This bill should be passed because it will protect trans students from the unreasonable, and frankly dangerous, ‘forced outing’ policies and protect teachers from retaliation if they choose to protect their students.

Students have a right to reveal pieces of their identity to whoever they choose to trust, no matter how old they are. If a student decides to come out to a teacher or another staff member who they trust as an adult, they should be allowed to do so without fear of a forced outing. Having a trusted adult as a minor has been shown to lead to an increase in positive childhood development and improved physical and mental health. This is very important for LGBTQ+ youth as an estimated 53% experience symptoms of depression and 66% experience symptoms of anxiety.

There are many cases, especially for underage students, in which coming out to their parents could put them in very real danger, risking even their lives. For example, by the end of this May, there have been fourteen known trans women to die of targeted violence in the United States alone. Conversion therapy, which is an attempt to forcibly “correct” someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, is also a threat to many young members of the LGBTQ+ community. The treatment is usually done through abusive conduct that is legally allowed through parental signatures in a contract. Conversion therapy along with other “treatments” is a very real risk to many students who could be forcibly outed to their parents by school district policies.

Coming out can be terrifying for many young people, especially if they already know their family won’t be supportive of their social transition. Students should be able to confide and trust in their teachers, as well as have the opportunity to be themselves to the fullest extent in which they are comfortable. Some teachers want to help their students any way they can, and forcing them to out their students and put them in potential danger is wrong. The proposed bill would remove these unfair outing policies and keep everyone involved safe, including both students and teachers.

If personal information like a preferred name and pronouns is disclosed to a therapist or counselor, the information would be required legally to be kept confidential. This is the case for every piece of information disclosed by a minor to a mental health professional unless there is genuine and immediate concern for the minor’s safety or anyone else involved. The school professional is legally not allowed to disclose any information without written consent from the minor in treatment. The same legal basis should apply to students sharing personal information with teachers.  

A student’s decision to change their name or pronouns does not cause harm to other students or endanger anyone else. Rather, the ‘forced outing’ policies enacted in California school districts are more dangerous for students going through a social transition. There is no legal basis to force teachers or other school faculty to disclose this personal information to parents. Therefore, considering all the safety concerns regarding these policies in school districts, the decision to ban outing policies ensures more safety for students.