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Group to sue California AG over title of ballot initiative seeking to prohibit gender-affirming care for trans youth

Assembly member Bill Essayli speaks at a press conference announcing a planned lawsuit against state Attorney General Rob Bonta on the steps of the California Capitol on Jan 3, 2024.
Kate Wolffe
Assembly member Bill Essayli speaks at a press conference announcing a planned lawsuit against state Attorney General Rob Bonta on the steps of the California Capitol on Jan 3, 2024.

Leaders of a parental rights advocacy group announced Wednesday they’re planning to sue California Attorney General Rob Bonta over the way his office has characterized a 2024 ballot initiative they authored.

In August, the group Protect Kids California announced it would petition for three 2024 ballot initiatives that would, respectively:

  • ban transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care like puberty-blockers 
  • ban trans girls from girls’ competitive sports and girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms 
  • require public schools to disclose a student's gender identity to their parents, if the child is out at school.

In November, Bonta’s office grouped these issues together and titled it the “Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth” initiative. The summary of the measure uses language that is different from that which the group proposed.
According to Bonta’s office, if passed, the initiative “repeals law allowing students to participate in activities and use facilities consistent with their gender identity” and “prohibits gender-affirming health care for transgender patients under 18, even if parents consent or treatment is medically recommended.”

“Mr. Bonta’s title and summary is prejudicial, partial and inaccurate,” said Erin Friday, co-founder of the group.

In the past, the American Medical Association has asked governors to “oppose state legislation that would prohibit medically necessary gender transition-related care for minor patients.”

In California, the process to getting approved for any form of gender-affirming medical care requires a sustained record of gender incongruence, plus parental permission.

During a press conference on the Capitol steps, a crowd of about 80 people heard from three people who “detransitioned,” including Richard Anumene and Chloe Cole from California, and Wisconsin activist Laura Becker.

A 2021 review of 27 studies looking at incidence of regret among people who underwent gender-affirming surgery found that less than one percent regretted the decision.

The proposal needs 546,651 certified signatures of registered California voters by May 28 to qualify for the November 2024 ballot, about 2.5% of registered voters.

The group’s co-founder, Jonathan Zachreson, a Roseville City School Board member, said the current title and summary are confusing people who support the group and want to sign.

“A lot of the feedback is 'Why did you write the initiative this way?' and they're focused on the title and summary and we’re like ‘Well, we didn't write it. That was Attorney General Rob Bonta,” he said. “While we do feel like it's going well, it definitely has an interfering effect on the process as well as from a donor perspective as well as for the signature gathering effort.”

In an email, Bonta’s office said they couldn’t comment on the particular initiative, but they take the responsibility of issuing titles and summaries in compliance with procedural requirements “very seriously.”

I’m interested in how health care policy impacts Sacramento and California, who gets access to care and the issues facing health care providers.
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