Lawsuit Seeks To Block Washington Parental Rights Law That Critics Call A 'fOrced Outing' Measure

FILE - The Washington State Capitol building is seen on the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson, File)
FILE - The Washington State Capitol building is seen on the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 8, 2024, in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — A school district, a nurse, and civil rights and youth services organizations sued Thursday to block a new Washington state parental rights law that critics describe as a “forced outing” measure.

A conservative megadonor backed the law, which is set to take effect in June. The Democratic-led Legislature overwhelmingly approved it, with progressive lawmakers wanting to keep it off the fall ballot while calculating that courts would likely block it.

Known as Initiative 2081, the law requires schools to notify parents in advance of medical services offered to their child, except in emergencies, and of medical treatment arranged by the school resulting in follow-up care beyond normal hours. It grants parents the right to review their child’s medical and counseling records and expands cases where parents can opt their child out of sex education.

That could jeopardize students who go to school clinics seeking access to birth control, referrals for reproductive services, counseling related to their gender identity or sexual orientation, or treatment or support for sexual assault or domestic violence without their parents knowing, critics say.

The fight is the latest iteration of a long-running, nationwide battle over how much say parents have in the schooling of their children. Many parents have joined a conservative movement pushing states to give them more oversight of schools, including over library books and course material, transgender students’ use of school bathrooms, and the instruction of topics related to race, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Most of the rights Initiative 2081 granted to parents were already covered by state or federal law, but in some cases it expanded them.

Minors do not need parental permission to get an abortion in Washington, and state law gives those 14 and older the right to get tested or treated for sexually transmitted diseases without their parents' consent. Those 13 and older have the right to outpatient behavioral health treatment.

“Initiative 2081 is a forced outing law that will harm LGBTQ+ students if implemented in our schools,” Denise Diskin, an attorney for QLaw Foundation, said in a written statement. “LGBTQ+ students seek out safe and trusted school staff when they don’t have a supportive home, and the affirmation they receive can be life-saving."

Brian Heywood, a conservative hedge fund manager who finances the Let's Go Washington political action committee, said the lawsuit seeks to “trample the rights of parents.” The measure, he said, isn’t designed to give parents veto power over their child’s decision to access counseling or medical treatment: “It’s just saying they have a right to know.”

“The lawsuit is a frivolous but not surprising attempt to legislate through lawsuit rather than through the democratic process,” he said.

He also noted that schools would not be required to turn over medical records to parents who are under investigation for child abuse or neglect.

In Washington, citizen initiatives that garner enough signatures can be directed to the Legislature. Lawmakers can then pass them, let voters decide or offer voters an alternative measure. Heywood's group pushed six initiatives this year, including ones that would overturn the state’s capital gains tax and its climate law, which established a “cap and invest” carbon market.

Democrats in the Legislature passed three of Heywood's measures, giving themselves a better chance to focus on defeating the three they considered most objectionable at the ballot box this fall.

Those challenging the law object to it on the merits. But one of their attorneys, Adrien Leavitt of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the crux of the lawsuit rests on a procedural matter. The Washington Constitution requires that new laws not revise or revoke old laws without explicitly saying so, but Leavitt said this initiative does so in several cases.

For example, state law ensures the privacy of medical records for young people authorized to receive care without parental consent. The measure would give parents the right to be notified before their child receives care and the ability to review school medical records, Leavitt said, but it does not specifically say that it amends the existing privacy law.

One of the plaintiffs, the South Whidbey School District, on Whidbey Island north of Seattle, said in a resolution adopted by the school board Wednesday that the law "negatively affects the rights of youth in Washington state, including LGBTQ+ youth, youth of color, youth survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and youth seeking reproductive health care and gender affirming care.”

Others who brought the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court include an unnamed Seattle parent of a nonbinary child; Kari Lombard, a psychiatric nurse-practitioner and former West Seattle High School nurse; and several organizations dedicated to the rights of LGBTQ+ or young people.