Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest and community partners are working together to protect LGBTQ+ students across Riverside County. Our coalition believes schools should be safe spaces for learning regardless of students’ sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. All youth deserve affirming and inclusive spaces to learn, thrive, and be themselves — free from harmful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies that violate their rights and negatively impact their mental health. Stay up to date on our local activism, and join our efforts!
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RE: Urgent Action Needed to Protect LGBTQ+ Students and Ensure Student Wellbeing
Dear Dr. Gomez and Members of the Riverside County Board of Education,
We are writing to you as a coalition of local nonprofits who have grown increasingly and deeply concerned over recent developments regarding the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ students. Our organizations are dedicated to safeguarding student wellbeing and fostering inclusive and safe learning environments for all students, inside and outside of the classroom. After a series of concerning actions taken by school boards across Riverside County, we, the undersigned, call on the Riverside County Board of Education to learn more about the impact of these actions, to work with community to build a multi-faceted plan for disseminating information across the County, and repair the harm that has been caused. Our region is beautiful, complex, and has a rich history – with residents and young people who deserve access to high quality education, safe schools, and the information and care they need to make the best decisions for their health, lives, and futures.
A national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health conducted just last year, showcases some alarming statistics. The survey found that nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide and 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Further, the survey found that fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming. Although this data is alarming, it details the importance of safe and supportive school environments, with LGBTQ youth who found their school to be affirming reporting lower rates of suicide attempts than those who did not have supportive school environments.
We ask that you consider these examples when navigating conversations about rights, and about who is most affected by decisions made across school districts within your County. It is our determination to protect the rights of all students, but especially of those most vulnerable to harm. We are experiencing an unprecedented increase in attacks on transgender people’s rights, attacks on gender-affirming health care, and attacks on trans youth. This has had devastating consequences for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people in our communities, who are the targets of violence, stigma, and intolerance. The discrimination and misinformation used to enforce harmful policies in our schools and communities are dangerous and extremely harmful. Make no mistake, these policies and the messages that school boards across our region are sending, are harming the mental health and wellbeing of the students we care about. It’s vitally important that the Riverside County Board of Education take urgent action against the discriminatory and shameful policies outlined below.
Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD), Murrieta Valley Unified School District (MVUSD): On May 2nd, 2023, at the Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD) board meeting, a group of adults demanded the school district adopt a policy that would require the outing of LGBTQ+ students by sharing their preferred pronouns with their parents without their explicit consent. During this demand Assembly Bill 1314 (Essayli) was cited, which was not heard in the education committee because Chair Al Muratsuchi felt that “the bill is proposing bad policy, but also because a hearing would potentially provide a forum for increasingly hateful rhetoric targeting LGBTQ youth”. Since this occurrence, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) board has successfully adopted a similar policy to the one brought up at DSUSD’s board meeting. We firmly believe that this practice is not only discriminatory, but a violation of student privacy, and that it can have detrimental effects on student mental and emotional wellbeing.
Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD): On May 16th, 2023, trustees of the Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) board voted to reject a social studies curriculum for grades 4-5, due to mention of historical figure and gay rights leader, Harvey Milk. A majority trio of the board, including Joseph Komrosky, Jennifer Wiersma, and Danny Gonzalez, voted against adopting the required curriculum on two separate occasions – leaving teachers and students with no set course of study mere weeks before the start of school. As of July 21st, 2023, while the TVUSD Board voted unanimously to move forward and adopt the social studies book, the board continues to interfere with student learning, demanding that all material referencing Harvey Milk and his contributions to the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement in California be pulled. These actions are unacceptable, and send a dangerously homophobic message to students that the board is willing to censor materials that make reference to important moments and people in LGBTQ+ history, no matter the legal ramifications. As of recently, TVUSD has also voted to adopt a copycat of MVUSD’s parental notification policy, furthering the violation of student privacy and harm to the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ youth in the county.
We strongly urge you to take the following immediate actions to address the issues with the aforementioned school districts, and curtail the efforts of any future districts determined to out students or ban LGBTQ+ education materials in classrooms. We demand that the Superintendent's Office send a clear and unequivocal letter to the DSUSD, MVUSD, and TVUSD boards, along with any other school district in Riverside County attempting similar actions, stating that these measures are dangerous and unacceptable.
We call on you, the Riverside County Board of Education, and the example you set on April 5th, 2023, in voting against adopting a similar parental notification resolution, in an effort to protect students across the County. It is crucial to emphasize that schools should be safe spaces for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Outing students, especially without their consent, is an unacceptable practice that can lead to bullying, harassment, and isolation, and lead to poor health outcomes. LGBTQ+ students already face significant challenges and are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues and discrimination. It is your duty as educational leaders to protect and support these students, and to foster an environment where they feel valued, respected, and included.
We encourage you to prioritize the implementation of policies that promote inclusivity, respect for diversity, and safeguard the rights and privacy of all students, in every school district, and especially at those aforementioned. We request your commitment to providing comprehensive training for teachers and staff on LGBTQ+ inclusion, in alignment with the spirit of AB 493: The Safe and Supportive Schools Act of 2019, to ensure that every student can thrive academically and emotionally.
We appreciate your attention on this urgent matter and hope that you will take the necessary steps to rectify any missteps occurring at DSUSD, MVUSD, and TVUSD promptly. We stand ready to support you in creating an educational environment that embraces diversity and promotes the wellbeing and success of all students.
Thank you for your dedication to the betterment of our educational system and for your commitment to fostering an inclusive and safe learning environment for every student in Riverside County.
Please respond to this letter with the actions the Riverside County Office of Education and Riverside County Board of Education will take in relation to the outlined issues, at the next County Board of Education meeting.
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation- Southern California
Inland Empire United
Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest
Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance
Riverside LGBTQ Pride
Safe Schools Desert Cities
Trans Community Project
The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert