– An Update from EQCA Legislative Manager, Jo Michael –
Every January 1, hundreds of new laws go into effect in California. This month, eight of them will have a significant impact on the lives of LGBT people across the state, addressing some of the disparities in health and wellbeing that members of our community still face.
Assembly Bill (AB) 959, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, requires state health and social services agencies to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity whenever demographic data is collected. Collecting this data helps determine whether government programs successfully reach those in need, which will pave the way for improvements to those programs. Without any data to point to, the LGBT Californians seeking help through these programs are invisible–we simply do not know how they are serving our community and where they need to improve. AB 959 creates an opportunity for ongoing engagement with state health and social services agencies to ensure that LGBT Californians will no longer be overlooked. Starting this year, we will be able to help agencies prepare to meet the new requirements under the law and work with them to achieve full compliance by July 1, 2018.
AB 960, also authored by Assemblymember Chiu and cosponsored by EQCA, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Our Family Coalition, updates California’s assisted reproduction laws to recognize intended parents using assisted reproduction, whether or not a medical professional is involved. Building a family using a sperm bank or doctor can cost hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of dollars per month, and is simply not affordable for many families. By eliminating this economic barrier and making other important changes to the law, AB 960 puts more family building options within our community’s reach.
Also in the area of family building and recognition is AB 1951 by Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, which modernizes California birth certificates by allowing parents to choose to self-designate as “father,” “mother,” or “parent,” eliminating inaccurate designations and confusion for same-sex parents. EQCA and NCLR cosponsored this bill in 2014, and its January 1, 2016 effective date allowed time for new birth certificate forms to be printed and distributed.
AB 329, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber and cosponsored by EQCA, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Forward Together, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, updates sexual health and HIV prevention curricula to provide instruction that is medically accurate, comprehensive and inclusive of LGBT people and their families. Students who are children of LGBT parents or who identify as LGBT themselves often feel invisible or stigmatized in health classes when issues that are important to our community are glossed over, or not discussed at all. Ensuring that all students have age-appropriate, accurate information about LGBT people and families helps increase general acceptance and understanding of the LGBT community. In addition, helping LGBT youth feel accepted in school will aid in reducing dropout rates and encourage students to do better academically. AB 329 will ensure that sexual health education in California is relevant to all students. The sheer size of California’s student body makes the state the nation’s largest purchaser of textbooks, meaning the new law is likely to have an impact in the development textbooks that will be purchased and used in other states, as well.
Despite much progress in the effort to make schools safer for LGBT students, our youth still face verbal, physical, and online harassment far too often. AB 827 by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell will help teachers assist LGBT students who need support dealing with bullying or lack of acceptance by providing them with information about resources at their schools (such as a gay-straight alliance or a school counselor), in their local communities (a local LGBT Center’s youth program, for example) and beyond (such as a statewide or national crisis hotline).
AB 87 by Assemblymember Mark Stone prohibits discrimination against transgender jurors in the jury selection process in California courts. The new law also makes clear that jury selection discrimination based on ethnicity, age, genetic information, or disability is prohibited as well.
Senate Bill (SB) 731, authored by Sen. Mark Leno and cosponsored by EQCA, NCLR, and TLC, focuses on particularly vulnerable members of our community: transgender and gender non-conforming foster youth. SB 731 helps keep these young people safe in foster care by requiring social service workers to take their gender identity into account before making a placement decision.
SB 703, also authored by Senator Leno, prohibits state agencies from doing business with companies that discriminate between the benefits offered to transgender employees and other employees, leveling the playing field in state contracting between in-state and out-of-state companies.
Each of these new laws will have an impact on the lives of LGBT Californians. Each addresses an area where our community still experiences discrimination and stigma. Each shows that while we have accomplished much, so much remains to be done.