California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A coalition of parental rights and child advocacy groups have accused California Attorney General Rob Bonta of attempting to mislead voters over a ballot initiative title and summary they say is skewed in favor of his political stance on “gender affirmation.”
The ballot initiative
would require schools to notify parents if their child changes his or her gender identity, protect the integrity of girls’ sports by prohibiting boys who claim to be girls from competing in them, and ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery on minors.
However, the state attorney general wrote the ballot initiative title as “Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth,” and the summary is “overtly biased,” “completely absurd,” and “wrong,” said Jonathan Zachreson, spokesman of Protect Kids California, the coalition of parental rights groups that launched
“It’s so bad it’s laughable,” he said. “Our initiative protects kids. It doesn’t restrict rights.”
The coalition opposes any kind of medical intervention, including “chemical sterilization” and “genital mutilation” to treat gender dysphoria that could affect the future reproductive health of children, he said.
In late August, the coalition launched three separate initiatives, which have since been consolidated into a single initiative known as the “Protect Kids of California Act of 2024.”
The coalition received the ballot title and summary on Nov. 29 and now has less than 180 days to collect the 546,651 qualified signatures needed for the statewide initiative to be placed on the Nov. 5, 2024, general election ballot.
The ballot summary
from the attorney general’s office reads:
- Requires public and private schools and colleges to: restrict gender-segregated facilities such as bathrooms to persons assigned that gender at birth; prohibit transgender female students (grades 7 and higher) from participating in female sports. Repeals law allowing students to participate in activities and use facilities consistent with their gender identity.
- Requires schools to notify parents whenever a student under 18 asks to be treated as a gender differing from school records without exception for student safety.
- Prohibits “gender-affirming” health care for transgender patients under 18, even if parents consent or treatment is medically recommended.
It continues: “Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and, local governments: Potentially minor savings in state and local health care costs of up to millions of dollars annually from no longer paying for prohibited services for individuals under the age of 18. These savings could be affected by many other impacts, such as individuals seeking treatment later in life. Minor administrative and workload costs to schools, colleges, and universities, up to several millions of dollars initially. Potential, but unknown, cost pressures to state and local governments related to federal fiscal penalties if the measure results in federally funded schools, colleges, universities, or health care providers being deemed out of compliance with federal law.”
The attorney general’s assertion that the ballot initiative aims to “prohibit transgender female students (grades 7+) from participating in female sports” is “tricky” and “confusing,” while the wording submitted by Protect Kids California clearly defines what male and female mean based on biology, Mr. Zachreson said.
Erin Friday, an attorney and western U.S. regional leader for Our Duty, a group that opposes social, medical, and surgical interventions on minors, told The Epoch Times the ballot title and summary were predictable.
The attorney general, she said, has already shown his “disdain for parental rights,” most recently with his lawsuit
against Chino Valley Unified School District’s parental notification policy regarding gender transitions at school.
“We knew that Bonta would do everything in his power to undermine the initiative to mislead the voters,” she said. “We are disgusted, but not surprised.”
The lawsuit against Chino Valley “is designed to permit schools to continue the unconstitutional practice of deceiving parents when their students are experiencing gender dysphoria,” she said.
Erin Friday gathers with "Our Duty" supporters at the California state capital building in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mr. Bonta have pushed for too much state control over parental authority, Ms. Friday said.
While the summary states the initiative would “prohibit transgender female students” from participating in female sports, it doesn’t define what “transgender female” means, deliberately misleading voters unfamiliar with the nomenclature of gender ideology to think it means “girls who believe they are boys” when actually it means physical males, she said.
In addition, the language of “gender-affirming health care” refers to a model that means any child, of any age, regardless of mental health issues, ability to consent, or “absurdity of gender identity” must be affirmed and be given any intervention they request, she said. However, not all professionals
agree with this model.
The summary also underestimates the potential cost-savings to taxpayers by “tens of millions” of dollars, because children who undergo sex-change interventions face the “grim and predictable future” of becoming life-long medical patients with a host of side effects, including increased occurrences of cancer, osteoporosis, atrophy of sex organs, heart issues, and other life-altering, perpetual ailments, she said.
Detransitioners, including Layla Jane
and Chloe Cole
who had double mastectomies as minors—at 13 and 15 respectively—have talked about their ongoing discomfort from the surgeries, she said.
The attorney general’s press office stated via email in response to a request for comment that the attorney general’s office is responsible for issuing official titles and summaries “describing the chief purpose and points of every proposed initiative submitted in compliance with procedural requirements,” but didn’t respond to questions about the alleged bias and ambiguity in the title and summary including, “What defines a ‘transgender female?’”
“We take this responsibility seriously,” the press office stated. “However, we cannot comment on any particular initiative.”
Workers process California ballots at a Los Angeles Registrar site at the Los Angeles Fair Grounds in Pomona, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Bigger Picture Unfolds
Before almost every election in California, the wording of ballot measure titles, summaries, text, and rebuttals is enough to leave even the most politically astute voters feeling confused—even duped, according to two former state legislators.
Lawsuits over allegedly twisted ballot titles and summaries are nothing new to California, and the controversy is well-documented in news reports by several media outlets.
Former assemblyman Kevin Kiley, now a U.S. congressman, and Melissa Melendez, a former state senator, told The Epoch Times preceding the 2020 election that state ballot measure texts and summaries are so skewed, many voters have no idea what they are truly voting for or against come election time.
The problem, they said, is that in California, the authority and responsibility to write fair and impartial ballot titles and summaries rests with the attorney general—a partisan political office—who crafts the wording in a way that leads voters in his or her desired direction.
Mr. Kiley called the practice “terrible” and said it amounts to “election fraud,” because it manipulates the language “in a way that likely changes the whole outcome of the vote.”
“It’s time we finally protect the integrity of our elections by putting a neutral nonpartisan official in charge of writing the ballot language,” Mr. Kiley said in August 2020.
Mr. Kiley and Ms. Melendez said at the time they wanted to avoid further lawsuits and hand over the authority for wording ballot measure titles and summaries to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, and they even proposed legislation, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7
, or ACA 7, to do just that. However, the proposed amendment was killed in committee and never put to a vote.
In 2020, several lawsuits were filed against then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra or his wording of ballot titles and summaries, but his office denied they were biased.
“The elections code is very clear. ... It says you have to give a true and impartial statement on the purpose of the measure, and it’s not supposed to be used as an argument or to create prejudice for or against a measure,” Ms. Melendez said.
On Nov. 4, 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47, a referendum that proponents touted as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, and opponents such as the California Police Chiefs Association called the ballot title and summary misleading.
At the time, voters were told Prop. 47 was intended to keep nonviolent criminals out of state prison by downgrading some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, thus saving money on housing inmates. The saved money would then go into a fund to support schools as well as rehabilitation programs, including providing offenders with counseling, therapy, housing, and job opportunities.
Critics, including a county supervisor who originally supported the measure, say the law has instead resulted
in an increase in shoplifting and property theft crimes in the state.
Mr. Zachreson told The Epoch Times it isn’t worth suing over the misleading ballot title and summary and risk a potential drawn-out court battle that could prevent the initiative from being on the 2024 ballot.
If there is a court battle, it will come after the state prints the ballot title and summary in its official voter guide, he said.
Meanwhile, the “biased” language could backfire on Mr. Bonta, he said.
“It’s so wrong and absurd that in some ways, I don’t know if it even does the other side a favor, because it’s going get more people to turn their heads and look at what we’re actually trying to accomplish,” Mr. Zachreson said.
The state law that puts the attorney general in charge of ballot titles and summaries is a “direct conflict of interest,” he said. “It should be nonpartisan, impartial, and I think the Legislative Analyst’s Office is a good starting point.”
A Worldwide Stop the War Against Children Rally to protest the sexualization of children, secret gender transitions of minors, and pornographic books at schools, and other issues in Sacramento, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2023. (Courtesy of Julius Giles)
Politics and Polls
A Rasmussen poll
published in June found that 71 percent of American adults believe there are only two genders and the majority “support laws against transgender treatment for minors.”
Another Rasmussen survey
in December 2021 showed that 68 percent of Americans don’t believe schools and teachers should be allowed to counsel students on their sexual and gender identities without parental knowledge or consent, and that only 19 percent believe schools should be allowed to engage in such counseling without parental consent.
“Voters are in such strong support, we know that we can win, so the hardest part is just to get on the ballot,” Mr. Zachreson said. “That’s where we’re at now and we feel we can do it.”
But because most Democratic politicians in California are “vehemently against” the tenets of the ballot initiative, and Democrats hold a supermajority in the state, “there is no way that we’re going to be able to persuade the Legislature,” he said.
And, although litigation
has worked to some extent to fight against gender ideology in schools, he said the ballot initiative is a more direct route to democracy.
Even if the state loses its legal battle against Chino Valley and the district is allowed to enforce its parental notification policy, parental rights groups would still have to convince nearly 1,000 other school districts to adopt similar policies, whereas a successful ballot measure would make parental notification policies a statewide law, he said.
Protect Kids California has set a goal of 850,000 signatures to make sure it has ample qualified signatures to make the 2024 ballot, Mr. Zachreson said.
The 546,651 qualified signatures needed are based on 5 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election.
“We’ll also do our own signature verification to minimize any issues there,” he said.
Mr. Zachreson said petition forms
for the ballot initiative will soon be available for download from the Protect Kids California website.
Former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines, a National Collegiate Athletic Association record-setter who testified
before Congress in support of Title IX on Dec. 5, urged more than 300 people at a California Family Council event in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Nov. 30 to support all aspects of the ballot initiative.