‘Forced outing’ policy gets green light from Orange Unified


On September 7, protesters at an Orange Unified school board meeting clashed over the district’s parental notification policy, which critics call “forced outing.” Photo by Robin Estrin.

Protestors clashed at an Orange Unified School District board meeting on September 7, when trustees voted to require school officials to notify parents if students are transgender or exploring their gender identity on campus. 

The majority passed the new parental notification policy with a vote of 4-0. Three board members who opposed the rule were not present for the vote, having left the room after a raucous protest erupted during public comment.

Those board members said in a joint statement that they left out of fear for their safety. 

“By bringing culture wars into Orange Unified, the [board] majority has invited the most radical elements into our home,” the statement reads. “We can only imagine how difficult it is for our LGBTQ youth to exist in this toxic and hateful environment.”

Conservative members of the Orange Unified school board won a slim 

majority of seats in November, and since then have led national culture war conversations around critical race theory, sex and gender curriculum, and the appropriateness of particular books.

Uyen Hoang, executive director at the LGBTQ organization Viet Rainbow of Orange County, says she was one of several people at the meeting personally heckled by right-wing protesters, many of whom traveled from outside the district.

“It’s not safe anywhere in this room, to be honest,” she said, wearing a rainbow flag in her hair.

Some of the opponents of the policy also traveled from outside the district, including members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. They were escorted out of the board meeting by police after one member disrupted public comment with a bullhorn.

The parental notification policy is similar to one passed by the Chino Valley Unified School District in July. In late August, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit arguing that policy is discriminatory and violates student privacy laws and civil rights. A San Bernardino County Superior Court sided with Bonta last week, temporarily blocking the district from enforcing the policy while the case moves through the courts.

The policy in Orange Unified and five other districts echoes language in a failed state bill authored by Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli, who attended the board meeting in Orange on Thursday.

“It is so critical what you're doing,” he told the board. “You are reaffirming that children are the domain of their parents, not the government. And that's what this whole issue is about. Who gets to raise our kids? Who gets to raise the next generation of Americans? Is it the government or is it their parents? The schools have no authority to withhold information from parents. Zero.” 

Essayli was one of many speakers, including Board President Rick Ledesma, who accused the school system of violating “parental rights.”

“Parents decide to conceive a child. Then the mother carries the child for nine months — we all know this — only to send their child eventually to school and [for that child] to be told to keep a secret, and because supposedly it comes down from the state,” Ledesma said.

The new Orange Unified policy initiates a system for schools to notify parents when they “become aware” that a student is “experiencing gender dysphoria and/or gender incongruence,” which the policy defines as a child “requesting to be identified or treated” as a gender, pronoun, or name other than the one on their birth certificate or official documents.

The policy also instructs schools to notify parents if students try to access “sex-segregated” facilities like bathrooms or sports teams.

Administrators, teachers and other certificated staff are required to notify the school principal, and principals are tasked with notifying parents in writing within five days.

The policy also says school officials don’t have to notify parents if the student is 12 or older, and the school counselor or psychologist has a “reasonable belief” that the disclosure could put the student in danger.

Proponents of the notification policies argue that parents have the right to information about their children at school.

Orange Unified board member Madison Miner, who proposed the policy alongside board president Rick Ledesma, said the rights of parents trump the privacy rights of children. 

“Our nation has consistently maintained that parents possess a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit,” said Miner.

Parents supporting the policy also expressed concern that children are not reliable narrators of their gender identities. 

“I have young children and sometimes they can’t even decide what shoes to wear in the morning, and yet we’re going to let them make decisions that can alter their lives forever? I think not,” Barbie George, California state liaison for the conservative organization Moms For America, said in a public comment. 

Another woman with children in the district, who gave only her first name, Ann, for fear of retribution, told KCRW she believes teachers are pushing children into identifying as gender non-conforming and helping them transition.

“Perhaps there is some kind of social contagion, or even push, toward any time a child might be having mental health issues – depressed, struggling. I do wonder if sometimes it's being labeled as ‘Oh, we know what this is. You're transgender. And so you need to start all the things.’”

Jolin Lang, a parent who came out to oppose the policy, pushed back on that idea. “The school isn't transitioning people's children,” she says. “The school is providing a safe space for the children to decide on their own terms when they come out into the world.” 

Hoang of Viet Rainbow fears the new policy could create an environment for queer students that is less safe.

Opponents of the policy call it “forced outing,” and say it can put children at risk of physical or emotional harm. 

“Statistics show us that LGBTQ [youth] are more likely to face being kicked out of their homes and to not have families or environments that are mostly accepting,” says Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke, director of advocacy and education for the LGBTQ Center OC. “It's really putting them at risk and their safety and their well-being at risk.” 

“It also makes you wonder: Why doesn't the kid feel comfortable coming out to their parents in the first place?” Camacho-Van Dyke adds.

Greg Goodlander, president of the Orange Unified Education Association, which represents 1,300 classified staff in the district, calls the policy a “political stunt.”

“In my 25 years in education, never once has a teacher come forward saying that this is something that is needed, or that we need some policy regarding this. I've never heard from parents expressing this concern until recently in this political climate,” Goodlander says. “But the teachers of my association have come to me and asked: Why are we spending so much time and energy on this when we really need to be focusing on working air conditioning units, renovating our HVAC systems, helping raise test scores, [and] lowering class sizes?”

The parental rights movement is part of a coordinated effort by Republicans to mobilize parents politically, says UCLA education professor John Rogers.

“Certainly, the pandemic created frustration and anxiety that parents were feeling, and then that coalesced in attacks on public schools in more conservative or politically contested parts of the state,” he says. “But it also is the case that at this moment, those anxieties and concerns have been picked up on by party activists who are seeking to gain political advantage in a state in which Republicans have no access to the levers of power.”