Library controversies and gender-identity policies in America’s K-12 schools arise from the minority-stress theory. According to this theory, gays and the transgendered suffer from an accumulation of microaggressions, rejections, bullying, discrimination, and stigmatizing. These experiences stress their mental and physical health. As a result, both groups engage in risky behavior, harm themselves, or even commit suicide. The theory implies a remedy: to relieve this stress, society and its individual members must not only cease to be disapproving; they must also become positively affirming.
California has been busy attempting to carry out these goals by fighting “transphobia” and “homophobia” in schools, as we show in a report from the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The result of these efforts gives us another chance to test minority-stress theory.
California’s legislature has passed ten laws to support gays since 2011, and it has passed three laws applying minority-stress theory to the transgendered. Among these are Seth’s Law (2011), which directs public schools to adopt anti-bullying policies to protect gays and the transgendered; the FAIR Education Act (2011), which requires the incorporation of LGBTQ+ heroes into public K-12 curriculum; the School Success and Opportunity Act (2013), which allows public school students to use bathrooms based on their chosen gender identity; the Healthy Youth Act (2015), which mandates “LGBTQ+ inclusive” Comprehensive Sex Education for grades 7–12; the Suicide Prevention Act (2016), which obliges public schools to adopt suicide-prevention policies for grades K–12, and specifically for LGBTQ+ students; the Safe and Supportive Schools Act (2019), which requires the California Department of Education to provide LGBTQ+ resources for school districts; the Health Education Framework (2019), which includes training for teachers to affirm and perhaps cultivate LGBTQ+ identities in students; the Menstrual Equity for All Act (2021), which puts tampon machines in boy’s bathrooms; and the Gender Affirming Health Care Act (2022), which compels public schools to assist in administering gender transitioning, even over parental objections.
These legislative changes actually understate California’s commitment to minority-stress theory. A host of “social and emotional learning” initiatives, catalogued in our report, extend these goals into every subject in California’s curriculum. The superintendent’s task force on “Inclusive Education” has pressured curriculum and textbook providers to include more LGBTQ+ heroes.
California brooks no opposition to implementing these laws. When local school districts defy Sacramento, the state’s political establishment brings them into line. When Temecula Valley Unified School district rejected the state-endorsed social-studies curriculum because of its celebration of Harvey Milk, Governor Gavin Newsom threatened to fine the district $1.5 million and to withhold $1.6 million in state assistance. “If these extremist school board members won’t do their job, we will,” warned Newsom, “and fine them for their incompetence.” Temecula relented, as have other school districts that objected.
Presumably, all this legislation should have reduced minority stress for gays and the transgendered in California. Societal acceptance for gays has increased, as we can see in Californians’ support for same-sex marriage, which has risen by an average of 15 percentage points since 2008. There is greater tolerance for sexual minorities and the transgendered, as well. According to minority-stress theory, this should have produced better mental-health outcomes for gays and the transgendered and fewer accusations of bullying. It has not. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The more anti-bullying training California students get, it seems, the more bullying is found. People imagine that “bullying” means committing violence or threatening violence against a fellow student. According to activists, however, it now means using the wrong pronoun or opposing the inclusion of pornographic material in school libraries. After nearly ten years of anti-bullying training, a 2020 survey showed that one-third of California students say that they are bullied, while only about 10 percent of all students in the state’s middle and high schools consider themselves gay or transgender. Many law firms have emerged to help supposed victims of bullying sue school districts.
Nor have health measures improved. After more than a decade of legislative and school efforts, “LGBTQ youth are facing a mental health crisis in California,” warns Axios, while the Trevor Project finds that “45% of LGBTQ youth contemplated suicide in the past year.” California LGBTQ youth are “placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” according to the Trevor Project. Actual numbers of youth suicides in the state have inched up since California went on its social justice bender, though the state’s overall suicide rate has tracked below the national average in recent years.
The presumption of a “mental health crisis” among gays and the transgendered is sewn into the fabric of the “minority-stress” environment promoted in California’s schools and elsewhere. Yet the implementation of these laws has been a success in only one respect: the minority-stress educational regime stifles legitimate opposition to California’s laws by stigmatizing it as homophobic or transphobic. And as the state government goes the extra mile to solve the supposed problem of minority stress, freedom is diminished, traditional sexual morality is mocked, and California’s school performance continues to trail behind two-thirds of U.S. states.
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