Pride flags are seen as people attend the 2023 LA Pride Parade on June 11, 2023 in Hollywood, California ( AFP / Robyn Beck)

Opponents of pro-LGBTQ California bill distort its impact on child custody

Social media posts claim a bill passed by lawmakers in the US state of California allows authorities to revoke custody if a parent does not affirm the gender identity of their child. This is false; legal experts say the measure does not mandate removal but adds parental affirmation to the many factors a judge should consider in a custody dispute.

"Breaking: California Senate has PASSED #AB957, the most dangerous law facing California parents in decades, which will require parents to 'affirm' the 'gender transition' of any child -- any age, any gender, every family, every time, social or medical transition, no limits -- or else lose custody." says a September 6, 2023 X post. "Religious non-affirming parents will be deemed UNSAFE," it adds.

"This bill would change family code and force a judge to remove custody from the parent who does not affirm their child's gender identity during a custody battle," says Denise Aguilar in a post on TikTok. Aguilar is a co-founder of a group called Freedom Angels. Previously fact-checked by AFP, the group is best known in California for opposing state-mandated vaccines.

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Screenshot of an X post taken September 18, 2023
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Screenshot of an X post taken September 18, 2023

 

 

Similar claims can be found in online articles and on social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook.

On X, Elon Musk, who has shared a litany of misinformation since his acquisition of the company known as Twitter in 2022, also perpetuated the falsehood.

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Screenshot of an X post taken September 19, 2023

California Assembly Bill 957 (archived here) passed and was enrolled on September 8, sending the measure to the governor. If signed into law, it will amend Section 3011 of the Family Code to include a parent's acceptance of their child's gender identity as a consideration when determining custody and visitation rights.

The bill was introduced by state Assembly member Lori Wilson, the mother of a transgender child, who told local news her bill is about ensuring gender-diverse children are represented in family court. AFP reached out to Wilson's office, but a response was not forthcoming.

Legal experts say the bill does not revoke custody or remove minors solely based on affirmation of a child's gender, despite the narrative circulating social media.

Scott Altman, a family law professor at the University of Southern California, described the claims as "alarmist" in a September 19 phone interview with AFP.

"This bill governs disputes between two legal parents," he said, explaining that affirming a child's gender identity would be listed among many criteria that judges are to consider when deciding which placement is best for the child. "Nothing in this bill suggests that those concerns be minimized or subordinated to affirming a child's gender identity," said Altman.

Nor does it mean the "state would intervene and remove a child from your home and place them in foster care or terminate your parental rights," he said.

Margaret Russell, associate professor of law at Santa Clara University, agreed. "The critics' claims are false and fearmongering," she told AFP in an email.

"The language of AB 957 makes it clear that judges may take into account as one factor in custody decisions the parent's acceptance or non-acceptance of a child's chosen gender identity."

An assembly floor analysis (archived here) also highlights that the bill does not force a decision to be made solely on gender identity acceptance. The bill "does not necessarily require the court to side with the parent that affirms a child's gender identity. Existing law requires the court to consider several factors which prioritize the health, safety, and welfare of the child."

AFP has debunked additional misinformation about legislation aimed at supporting transgender youth in California and Washington state.

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