Guest Comment: Identity support

Chico school counselor addresses lawsuit backlash and challenges trans youth are facing

Chico Unified School District office. (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

I am white, heterosexual, neurotypical, cisgendered and able-bodied. Though I grew up below the poverty line and endured several ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), I was a first-generation college student and have an advanced degree, a professional license and financial security. In short, I have privilege tempered by adversity. For the past 20-plus years, I have honored my privilege by serving others. I have worked with thousands of children and hundreds of families as a counselor, psychotherapist and consultant in schools and community-based nonprofits. I am an accomplished, innovative and well-respected leader, advocate and mentor in my field and, until January, had received only positive recognition for my work.

On Jan. 13, 2023, Chico Unified School District (CUSD) received notice of a lawsuit, Regino v. Staley, et. al. While I was not named as a defendant, my name was included in the filing with allegations focused on my work with a student questioning their gender identity. This politically fueled suit comes during a year when 562 anti-trans bills have been introduced in the U.S. so far. Stirring the outrage around the lawsuit was the fact that numerous news outlets chose to include my full name in their stories, as did the plaintiff and attorney in locally and nationally televised interviews. These were allegations, yet they were interpreted by many as fact. The ensuing plethora of ill-will and hatred directed at me by members of our community and from across the nation has been astounding. This has been an unexpected and undeserved journey; I have been libeled, slandered, defamed and silenced. I have feared for the safety and well-being of my own children, our students and staff, and for myself.

It is new to me to live with such fear, yet another way in which I am privileged. Fear is nothing new to the LGBTQ+ community. For those who are transgender, especially those living in homes where being transgender is considered a choice, shameful, and a sin, fear and its consequences are ever-present. The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020 found the following:

• One in three LGBTQ youth have been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

• Over 60 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported engaging in self-harm in the previous 12 months.

• More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide.

• Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.

Additionally, The Trevor Project’s May 2023 Research Brief: The Relationship Between Caring Teachers and the Mental Health of LGBTQ Students found that feeling that teachers or professors cared a lot or very much about them was associated with 34 percent lower odds of attempting suicide in the previous year for LGBTQ youth, aligning with previous research that has found that the presence of supportive school staff is associated with lower rates of depression and seriously considering suicide in the past year.

One of my guiding principles in working with students is to treat each one as I would wish my own child to be treated in similar circumstances. I treated this child with dignity, respected their wishes, and honored their privacy while building empathy for their mother. When a child divulges information about their identity, I offer support in sharing this with their family. If they are not ready to disclose, I work with them to progress toward this sharing if they feel safe doing so. As a counselor and a humanist, I offer acceptance and unconditional positive regard, a safe space, and containment without judgment. I encourage all families to develop and nurture similar environments and relationships; every person deserves to be loved and accepted as they are.

Every allegation in the lawsuit is false except one: It is true that I did not inform the mother of this child of their decision to use a chosen name and pronouns at school. Professional ethics prohibit me from outing any person against their will unless safety requires it. In addition, the California Department of Education’s anti-discrimination policy, which CUSD observes, protects students from such violations of privacy. It is imperative that individuals lead and fully control the process of sharing their identity with others. I did not transition or encourage a transition for this student; I did support this child as they shared their requests with others.

On July 11, 2023, Senior U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez dismissed the case against CUSD.

I begin each weekly social-emotional classroom lesson with gratitude, and I’d like to practice that here: I am thankful to live in California and work for CUSD where LGBTQ+ youth continue to be seen and protected. I am forever grateful for those who supported me over the past six months—a special shout-out to Matt, Savvy and River who walked through the darkest of days beside me. And a tremendous thank you to all the advocates and allies among us who lead with love and empathy and engage their privilege to advance the lives of others.

To all LGBTQ+ youth: You are worthy, you are loved, there is hope. For those needing support during a crisis, text “START” to 678-678 to reach a counselor.

Mandi Robertson is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the school counselor and wellness center coordinator at Sierra View Elementary School, and a mother of two CUSD students.


  1. You are valuable and courageous! Those who are not in our profession may have a difficult time understanding why we do what we do. Your work ethic, dedication, and ability to connect with individuals is second to none. On behalf of all the youth you have served and those of us who know you, we appreciate and value YOU! Thank you for helping students find a safe space to be their true selves.

  2. As a retired School Superintendent who also holds a masters in school counseling, I applaud Mandi Robertson and her commitment to all youth. Any person who is transgender has a rough road in today’s society. They need all the support we can provide them. All people deserve to know they are valued as human beings and treated with dignity and respect. Mandi, keep up the great work of protecting our youth.

  3. I think it’s imperative we understand that our parents should always be in the conversation about their children.

  4. Your love and dedication to your students shines clearly. Thank God you work with young people and have risen from this dark journey to become a beacon for your colleagues and future students.

  5. Dear Mandi,
    Thank you for the work you do. We need more people like you in this world. I hope you remain a strong and caring advocate for our children for many, many years to come. ❣️

  6. Thank you, thank you. Your work is so essential in these crazy times we are living through. I see you, I support you, and I am grateful that you work with the youth in our community. Again, as a grandmother, my deepest thanks.

  7. While I agree with confidentiality, parents hold that in therapy for their child until a certain age because children cannot consent to therapy as minors. Many times school counselors forget they need informed consent for services. This still can be reported to the licensing board if the parents are angry. Nowhere when you enroll your child in school are you enrolling them in therapy. Resources needed to be given to the family to assist in the issues. Ethics comes into play at this point and possibly can do harm to the child and family unit. I know your heart was in the right spot but your information on who holds confidentiality is wrong. Hopefully they do not take it that far.

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