Commentary: Culture War Tactics in California Seem Doomed for Failure

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Caught a report in the Sacramento Bee this week that the Murrieta Valley School District, which got wide publicity for passing a policy of parental notification “if their child uses different pronouns or a different name while at school,” that the district will not enforce the policy.

The Bee reported a message to parents and students last week, that said that the “administrative regulation has never been developed and the policy has not been implemented nor enforced.”

Part of what happened is that state law is not on the side of the school district.

The California Department of Education prohibits the involuntary disclosure of students’ sexual orientation of gender identity.  The AG’s office already filed a lawsuit against Chino, which also adopted the policy, and that lawsuit has resulted in a judge blocking the policy from going into effect as the matter is litigated.

The Bee reported, “The CDE earlier this month issued findings that the Murrieta school district policy is discriminatory, and ordered the district to provide written notification to school personnel and students that the policy will not be implemented.”

“We can’t say it enough: forced outing policies are unnecessary and cruel, and open students up to harm and discrimination,” said Tony Hoang, executive director of Equality California, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, in a statement.

The school district’s decision to abandon implementation of the policy, he called “an unequivocal win for students in the district.

“It also sends a warning to districts across the state that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is a losing battle in California,” he added.

But it seems to me it goes a lot further than just the weight of the state’s law enforcement arm bearing down.

At least in blue state California, the push against such policies really hasn’t triggered the widespread wedge issue I think many on the right expected.

Part of it might be that the targets so far are peripheral and seemingly petty.  Really, we need parental notification about pronouns?

There are areas where I think the lines are more fraught – but a lot of that seems almost silly.

Moreover, these times when there are very real concerns about the future of the country and the world – a battle over pronouns seems again… petty.

I have long questioned the wisdom of launching a campaign, as the local chapter of Moms for Liberty has, in a place like Davis.

We have seen harsh words exchanged, a lot of angst, even some bomb threats and restraining orders.  But at the end of the day, on a policy level, it seems to be a losing battle that is losing steam.

Davis was always an odd location to attempt a cultural war tactic. This is a community where, in 2020, Trump did not break 15 percent of the vote.

A better test might have been Woodland—blue but not nearly as blue as Davis.

Last year, a Woodland School Board member called “transgenderism” a “social contagion.”

Local residents launched a recall of her. The recall overwhelming succeeded. While MacDonald resigned last week, seeing the writing on the wall, the recall passed with 63.6 percent of the vote. A pretty strong repudiation for that position.

As I noted in a column a month ago, even in redder parts of the state, such as Orange County, people are not really responding to this wedge issue.

Two Orange County School Board conservatives were ousted in March recalls with LGBTQ+ policies at the center of the issue.

The centerpiece was a standard red state proviso passed by Orange Unified School District of a parent-notification policy requiring educators to inform parents when a student requests “to be identified as a gender other than that student’s biological sex or the gender listed on the birth certificate or any other official records.”

AG Rob Bonta has pursued court challenges of such policies enacted by a handful of conservative-leaning school boards, but that’s a statewide elected official coming down from Sacramento.  This is a local voting group that said, enough.

The LA Times noted, “The recall came to be an early litmus test on the resonance with voters of issues that have roiled school boards throughout the nation: the teaching of racism and Black history, the rights of LGBTQ+ youth versus the rights of their parents, restrictions on LGBTQ+ symbols and related curriculum, and the removal of library books with sexual content — especially LGBTQ+ content — from school libraries.”

The Times added, “In such education tilts, Ledesma, a veteran school board member, and Miner, a newcomer, were warriors who took high-profile, aggressively conservative stands in front of cheering audiences of the like-minded. Their supporters included some district parents, but many attending the board’s most raucous meeting in September were religious conservatives without children in public schools, including some from well outside the community.”

In Temecula for example, on January 22, 2024, the county announced that enough signatures had been verified to schedule a recall election for June 4.

A Board resolution that was particularly sweeping included the “forced outing policy” requiring “schools to inform parents, with minimal exceptions, whenever a student requests to use a name or pronoun different from that on their birth certificate or official records, even without the student’s permission and when doing so would put them at risk of harm.

“The policy also requires notification if a student requests to use facilities or participates in programs that don’t align with their gender or sex on official records.”

AG Bonta filed an Amicus brief in support of a lawsuit arguing that the enactments violated students constitutional rights.

“Schools have an obligation to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment, with curricula that reflect the contributions of California’s diverse communities,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Temecula Valley Unified’s policies banning inclusive curriculum and forcibly outing transgender and gender-nonconforming students single out California’s most vulnerable individuals, severely harming their well-being and academic success. In the face of ongoing attacks in California and across the nation, my office will continue to stand up against any measures that compromise the civil rights of students.”

“You’re seeing more and more political types showing up on these schools boards,” said Jeff Pack, co-founder of the One Temecula Valley PAC, who supports the recall of Komrosky. “And now you’re seeing people push back on that.

One story made an interesting point: “many of the people who signed the recall petition were conservative.”

As Pack explained, “They may think there should be more conservative values at the school board level, but they said they didn’t sign up to destroy the public school system and attack teachers and attack kids for exercising their rights.

“They just want (board members) to do what’s right for Temecula. And at the school board level, to make sure kids have the best education possible. If you’re not doing that, and you’re just creating bogeymen to scare people and try to feel like you’re accomplishing something, that’s just not going to work for very long.”

That point really struck me as to why this effort will fail.  If anything – while I know many in the transgender community feel under attack – it may actually have the opposite effect that was intended.

People want schools to focus on educating the kids, not dealing with these culture wars and that actually plays against the tactics of those pushing for things like parental notification for pronouns.

As a parent, I want to be notified when my kids misses class or is struggling or being bullied, not what pronouns he or she want to use.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Dave Hart

    For normal, psychologically healthy people your last sentence comes close:

    As a parent, I want to be notified when my kids misses class or is struggling or being bullied, not what pronouns he or she want to use

    A normal person would also add that “I want to be notified when my kids misses class or is struggling or being bullied, or being a bully, not what pronouns he or she want to use

  2. Walter Shwe

    Anti-LGBTQ+ bills have largely or entirely failed in the red states of Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Florida. Even many conservatives have lost interest. The watch words for M4L right now are “failure and defeat”.

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