Schools should protect trans youth, not ‘out’ them

A Transgender Pride Flag is held above the crowd of LGBTQ+ activists during the Los Angeles LGBT Center's "Drag March LA: The March on Santa Monica Boulevard", in West Hollywood, California, on Easter Sunday April 9, 2023. The march comes in response to more than 400 pieces of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community that government officials across the United States have proposed or passed in 2023. (Allison Dinner/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Young people from California to Alabama are under threat due to a growing number of policies mandating that school staff — and in some cases, any government employee — disclose to their parents if a student identifies as transgender. This movement for so-called “parental rights” disregards basic civil rights and puts trans youth in danger.

In California, which has long been considered a stronghold for LGBTQ+ rights, conservative groups that have gained control of local school boards are advancing anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including forced outing policies. Last July, Chino Valley Unified School District became the first of at least six counties to adopt these forced outing measures. Despite intervention from the state attorney general’s office, the county adopted a modified version in March.


California is not alone. Since 2022, Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina and North Dakota have enshrined forced outing policies into state law. Six other states recently enacted laws that promote the outing of trans students through vague requirements to notify parents about “health or behavioral concerns.”

The consequences of these policies are dire. A 2022 study from the Trevor Project revealed that fewer than one in three trans youth find their home to be accepting or gender affirming, opening the door to rejection and even abuse from their families because of their gender identity. LGBTQ+ youth face a 120% higher risk than heterosexual, cisgender youth of becoming homeless after coming out to their families, and are twice as likely to experience homelessness at some point in their lives.

As a trans student in Chino Valley told Vice, “I’m so afraid that I’m going wake up tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that, and I’m going find out that one of my friends isn’t here anymore.”

While homes may not always provide a safe haven for trans youth, schools should.

For trans youth, especially those encountering difficulties at home, school often serves as a vital outlet for self-expression.

Studies indicate that trans youth thrive when they can openly and safely express their gender identity. Yet, with a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and ongoing incidents of bullying and harassment, schools are increasingly becoming hostile territory for LGBTQ+ youth.

Beyond forced outing policies, right-wing groups have advanced measures that erase queer history from curricula along with accurate accounts of racism and slavery, ban trans students from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, exclude trans students from sports participation and impose outright bans or severe restrictions on discussions or curricula related to LGBTQ+ issues.

Despite the evident harm incurred by these policies, conservative proponents of “parental rights,” such as Alliance Defending Freedom, continue to demonize and mischaracterize inclusive school policies as, at best, a form of indoctrination and, at worst, grooming.

These groups exclude parents who support their LGBTQ+ children or value historically accurate and inclusive educational material. This uneven application of “parental rights,” catering to certain parents while dismissing others, underscores the overtly political nature of such laws.

Such distorted interpretations of “parental rights” divert attention from the genuine challenges faced by parents, particularly those from marginalized communities, who strive to nurture and empower their children. LGBTQ+ parents, like Kris Williams, a lesbian mother in Oklahoma who lost custody of her own child to the sperm donor, continue to grapple with custodial precarity.

LGBTQ+ youth should not be casualties of political crossfire. Policymakers at all levels should defend the rights of LGBTQ+ youth, not undermine them.

Yasemin Smallens is a senior coordinator with the LGBTQ+ rights program at Human Rights Watch.