Community and faith leaders in Santa Ana, Calif., are demanding answers from the local school board about the National Suicide Hotline allegedly referring students who indicate they are confused about their gender identity to a controversial LGBT advocacy organization without parental consent.
The group asked Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) trustees at their Oct. 11 board meeting to investigate The Trevor Project, which provides 24-hour access to counselors and other support services for LGBT youth, and its affiliated TrevorSpace chatrooms. They also requested the removal of posters promoting the service in school bathrooms and hallways.
The National Suicide Hotline, which can be reached by dialing 988, surveys children of all ages about their genders and sexualities and gives them a list of 11 genders from which to choose, according to Brenda Lebsack, a teacher in the district who did not attend the meeting. Those who are confused about their gender or sexuality are referred by the crisis counselors to The Trevor Project, she said. The National Suicide Hotline is required to be on every California student’s ID card.
Critics said they are skeptical of the impact of The Trevor Project and its chatrooms which are open to 13- to 24-year-old LGBT youth.
Sarah Aguilar, a youth leader in Santa Ana and recent graduate of Cal State University Fullerton, accused The Trevor Project of supporting perversion in its affiliated TrevorSpace chatrooms by allegedly allowing children to discuss a wide range of sexual topics.
She also said SAUSD students no longer feel school is a safe place for students of faith who may disagree with some ideas about gender promoted by teachers.
“They feel they must hide their religious beliefs and family cultural values, otherwise they will be bullied and harassed,” she said. “Some students even fear physical violence or threats because of their religion.”
A psychology major, Aguilar stressed the importance of mental health among children.
“It is wrong that these mental health crisis lines use technology to indoctrinate and sexualize children behind parents’ backs,” she said. “Our Hispanic community respects and trusts those in authority. However, they do not send their children to school to be indoctrinated or sexualized.”
Victor Cota, a graduate of schools in the district and a youth pastor said that last month he emailed the school board about concerns regarding the suicide hotline’s referrals.
Lebsack, the teacher, obtained evidence of the survey questions from the National Suicide Hotline while posing as child confused about gender identity and worried about telling her parents, she told The Epoch Times.
The survey asks children to check one or more boxes or make up their own gender, Lebsack said.
It asks respondents to select from agender, boy/man, genderfluid, genderqueer, girl/woman, intersex, non-binary, trans, trans masculine, trans feminine, two spirit, prefer not to identify, or “Write in how you identify.” Additionally, it asks children their sexual orientation, whether they are asexual, bisexual or pansexual, gay or lesbian, heterosexual or straight, questioning or unsure, prefer not to answer, or “Other - Write in.”
Cota said he also sent evidence that children interact with adults to explore genders and sexualities on TrevorSpace, meaning children can talk about sex with adults without their parents’ knowledge, including through private messages.
“Anyone can chat with these kids in these spaces,” he said. “I checked it out with my own eyes. I was shocked at the types of chat groups I found.”
Brianna Cota, a middle school teacher, parent, and pastor, who is Victor's wife, said she found it hard to believe rumors about TrevorSpace.
“I had to see it with my own eyes,” she said. “It was worse than I imagined.”
The TrevorSpace chatrooms that allow teenagers and young adults to discuss sex and gender make the platform “a hunting ground for sexual predators,” she said.
Valerie Diaz-Toro, a high school senior told the board Christian students are “harassed, shamed, bullied, cussed out, ridiculed, and socially ostracized” in Santa Ana and that their constitutional right to freedom of religion is not respected.
“I’ve had to stay quiet in my experience while people talk about Christianity as horrible,” she said.
When one of her friends said in a class discussion that she believed in God and Jesus, she was called “a racist, transphobic, hater and even a Nazi,” Diaz-Toro said. “School is not about tolerance and kindness anymore. We’re being told to believe what they tell us about gender and sexuality, or we will be hated and threatened.”
Nilsa Juarez told the board that teaching children there are many genders is “an assault on our Latino culture and faith.”
“These expansive gender teachings intentionally create confusion in our children. This indoctrination puts a wedge between parents and their children,” he said. “The books in our elementary schools telling children that their gender can change easily based on their feelings, and that there are unlimited pronouns to choose from, is a betrayal of trust.”
The “indigenous culture” of Santa Ana reflects family values, and the community “believes that there are two genders: male and female—not 50 genders,” he said.
Araceli Justiniani, a retired district employee, asked the board for “total transparency and the truth” about all subject materials in school libraries, school data forms, modified definitions, online resources, crisis lines, and counseling that teach about gender and sexuality.
“Our district is made up of undocumented families, many of whom are fleeing tyrannical countries, as well as citizen families. Both families want the best education for their children,” she said. “Our children do not belong to the state, and we and they want to be heard.”
Many parents don’t want their children to be told gender is based on feelings or assigned by a doctor, she said. “Keeping parents in the dark about all these genders that educators and community partners are promoting is not a full and fair partnership.”
John Palacio, a trustee, suggested the board should investigate the complaints.
“If those issues raised are real ... then we just need to deal with it,” Palacio said. “There was some reading material that they talked about that we need to address as well. I don't need to go into details, because I think you’re very much aware [of] that.”
Rigo Rodriguez, school board president, objected to the “dehumanizing and disgusting language” that he claims was directed especially at LGBT students and suggested concerns raised during public comments should be scrutinized for accuracy.
“I’m asking the superintendent to please fact-check,” he said. “I really hope that the deeper intention was not to ... take a resource away from students who need it. We’re going to fact-check these issues because anytime a serious allegation is brought up, we need to really inquire.”
Trustee Carolyn Torres, vice president of the board, acknowledged Oct. 11 as “national coming out day,” and criticized “dehumanizing language” she claimed was directed at the LGBT community.
“It was hard for me to hear, kind of the horrible things said about my family, LGBTQ family, friends, students, staff,” she said.
She denounced the parents’ and students’ concerns as “anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” and dismissed TrevorSpace as a “fake site” unaffiliated with The Trevor Project.
“But it does raise a concern, which is maybe we need to have some awareness mechanism to let people know that there are fake sites,” she said. “If TrevorSpace was the group, I would be concerned too, but it’s Trevor Project.”
However, The Trevor Project which did not respond to a request for comment on the issue, promotes TrevorSpace, along with TrevorChat, TrevorLifeline, and other services on its website.
Trustees Torres, Rodriguez, and Palacio did not respond to inquiries after the meeting.
The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that “LGBTQ youth in the survey identified with more than 100 different combinations of terms to describe their gender identity.” More than 40 identities are listed on the Trevor Project’s website.