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.