Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, California has enacted policies endorsing “transgender” identity over the broad concerns of critics who claim the policies threaten parental rights, fairness in women’s sports, and the long-term health of children. Those critics have launched a new strategy to counter the gender ideology policies by going directly to the voters of the state.
Protect Kids California, a coalition of parental rights advocates and others who oppose gender ideology, filed three ballot initiatives Monday for the November 2024 ballot, aiming to circumvent the Golden State’s Legislature. The ballot measures require schools to notify parents if their children claim to identify as transgender, prevent biological males from entering women’s spaces and sports, and forbid medical professionals from putting kids on experimental drugs or performing surgery on them to “affirm” a gender identity opposite their biological sex.
“We have legislators and institutions taking advantage of vulnerable children and busy parents,” Jonathan Zachreson, a member of the Roseville City School Board and spokesman for Protect Kids California, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s going to take parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens from all over to stand up to protect kids from these harmful practices.”
“We have a Legislature that does not represent the people very well,” added Zachreson, a parental rights advocate who founded Reopen California Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The best polling that’s out there suggests that these initiatives would pass in California overwhelmingly.”
He cited numerous polls suggesting that more than 60% of California voters support schools notifying parents if their kids are questioning their gender identity, oppose biological males competing in women’s sports, and support restricting “sex-change” surgeries and drugs to patients over 18.
The Protect Kids California leader said transgender policies “are quietly being passed by the Legislature, and people are not sure what’s going on.”
He noted that transgender advocates are “basically saying that parents are a danger to their kid.” They lament that “transgender kids are bullied at school, yet we’re going to keep that secret from parents? No one cares more about their kids than parents do.”
“They’re acting like parents are the enemy,” Zachreson noted. “It’s scary that that’s their state of mind.”
In September 2022, Newsom signed SB 107, a bill declaring the Golden State a “trans refuge state” and empowering California courts to reassign custody of children who flee to California from other states seeking experimental medical interventions often euphemistically referred to as “gender-affirming care.”
The California Senate is also currently considering AB 957, which would make parents who refuse to “affirm” their child’s preferred gender identity liable for child abuse.
The state’s education code explicitly allows students to access sex-segregated school programs and facilities “consistent with his or her gender identity.”
The three ballot initiatives would change some of these policies.
The “Protect Children from Reproductive Harm Act” would bar health care providers from prescribing experimental drugs to or performing surgeries on minors to make their bodies resemble those of the opposite sex.
“It is in the interest of the people of California to protect the reproductive, sexual health, and bodily integrity of children as they grow into adults, including their natural ability to function sexually, reproduce, and breastfeed,” the ballot initiative states.
It notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of the medical interventions for gender dysphoria in minors and that countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Finland no longer recommend such interventions on children.
The initiative defines biological sex as male or female, determined by whether an individual’s body is developed for the production of sperm or eggs. It defines “sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures” as any intervention aimed at “affirming a child’s perceived gender identity if that perception is inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”
While the initiative would prevent most “sex-reassignment” procedures, it allows key exceptions for minors with “a medically verifiable genetic disorder of sexual development” and it would allow a minor who previously underwent such procedures to reverse those effects. It also allows children who already started sex-reassignment procedures before Jan. 1, 2025, to continue those procedures.
Violation of this law would be considered unprofessional conduct and would subject a health care provider to discipline.
Protect Kids California cited a national Harvard-Harris poll finding that 78% of Americans say “surgery to change gender and puberty blockers” should only be allowed for people over 18 years old. Protect Kids California weighted the poll to fit California’s party affiliation, finding that 64% of California voters (including 48% of the state’s Democrats) would likely support restricting sex-reassignment procedures to adults.
Upholding Parental Rights
The “School Transparency and Partnership Act” would require public schools to notify parents and legal guardians within three days if a student asks the school to treat him or her as a gender identity that differs from the student’s biological sex listed on the student’s record.
“It’s absurd that they [schools] want to keep parents out of the know on such important things that are going on with their children,” Zachreson told The Daily Signal.
“In order for parents or legal guardians to make the best decisions possible with respect to their children, schools must keep parents fully informed about all matters that are important to a parent and the wellbeing of a student, including the child’s mental health and social and psychological development,” the initiative declares. It notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld parental rights as a “fundamental liberty interest” protected by the 14th Amendment.
The initiative would require parental notification if a student asks for a change in name or pronouns, if a student asks to join sex-segregated programs or use sex-segregated facilities for a gender opposite his or her biological sex, if a student asks for gender accommodations at school-related activities, and if a student has access to “any type of body-modification clothing or materials” such as breast binders.
Al Muratsuchi, the Democratic chair of the California State Assembly Education Committee, refused to grant a hearing to AB 1314, another bill that would require this kind of parental notification. Muratsuchi said the hearing “would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth.”
Protect Kids California cited a June Rasmussen Reports poll finding that 68% of California voters support schools notifying parents if their child claims to identify as transgender. Even 65% of Democrats said they support parental notification.
Safety and Athletic Fairness
The “Protect Girls’ Sports and Spaces Act” aims to maintain fairness in girls’ and women’s sports by preventing biological men from competing in them and to protect the privacy and safety of California women and men by ensuring that sex-segregated facilities do not allow members of the opposite sex to enter.
“There are physical differences between the sexes, giving male athletes a physical competitive advantage against female athletes,” the initiative states. “Having sex-segregated private spaces at education institutions, such as locker rooms and bathrooms, is an important, historical measure to protect the privacy and safety of students.”
The initiative would repeal the section of the Golden State’s education code opening school athletics and facilities to members of the opposite sex based on gender identity. It defines male and female according to body development for the production of sperm or eggs, usually associated with male or female gonads and XY or XX chromosomes.
Protect Kids California cited a May 2023 Gallup poll finding that 69% of Americans say that athletes who identify as a gender opposite their sex should “only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender.” The group weighted the poll to fit Californians’ party affiliation, finding that 64% of Californians (including 48% of Democrats) would likely support restricting women’s sports to women.
Ballot Initiative Pitfalls
While the ballot initiatives do represent an opportunity for California voters to resolve these issues outside the Legislature, they may also present pitfalls.
Protect Kids California needs 546,651 certified signatures from registered California voters per initiative, and the measures require a majority of votes to pass on the November 2024 ballot.
Once the measures receive enough signatures to make the ballot, California’s Democratic attorney general, Rob Bonta, will draft a title and summary for the initiatives. Bonta will likely oppose the measures. In fact, he filed a lawsuit Monday against the Chino Valley Unified School District, aiming to block a parental notification measure.
Zachreson expressed confidence that the measures will succeed even if Bonta gives them an unflattering title and summary, however.
He noted that then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote a favorable title and summary for Proposition 16 in 2020, an initiative to repeal part of the Golden State’s constitution to allow race-based policies supporters call “affirmative action.” Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure, however, voting 57% against it.
“It was a very easy-to-understand issue,” Zachreson noted. “No amount of putting lipstick on the pig would make that initiative look better.”
The parental rights advocate said his own initiatives are simple enough that Bonta will have the same problem Becerra faced in 2020.
“I think by keeping it simple and that voters overwhelmingly support it in polling today, I don’t expect that to be a huge issue,” Zachreson said.
Even if the ballot measures succeed, it seems unlikely Bonta will defend them if challenged in court.
Although Proposition 8, the ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman, passed in California in November 2008, the state’s governor and attorney general refused to defend the law when it faced a challenge in federal court. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that proponents of a ballot initiative like Proposition 8 lack standing to appeal a ruling against their initiative in a federal court.
Zachreson noted that each ballot initiative has two provisions to address this.
“One, we say the attorney general has to defend it, but if the attorney general refuses to defend it, then proponents can defend it, and we would be reimbursed by the attorney general for the cost of defending it,” he said.
He also noted that laws protecting minors from experimental medical interventions currently face court challenges across the country. By the time the California initiatives pass, the court challenges will have likely resolved.
“We are confident that these and laws passed in other states will be upheld by the courts,” Zachreson explained.
While the parental rights advocate expressed optimism, he also stressed that the initiatives are “going to take efforts from a lot of people.” He urged Californians to sign up on the Protect Kids California website, and he asked for donations.
“Anybody across the country can contribute to help make this happen,” he said. “As goes California, so goes the nation. This is really an opportunity for us to change the trajectory and direction on this issue.”
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