Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Legislature tackles new LGBT related bills


Assemblywoman Sally Lieber. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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There was good news as well as uncertain news about several statewide bills of LGBT community interest as the Bay Area Reporter went to press on Wednesday, January 11, including an apparent surprise last-minute opposition from the California Teachers Association to a "safe schools" bill.

On Tuesday, January 10, Both AB1160 and AB1207 were passed by the public safety committee and elections committee, respectively.

AB1160, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, (D-Mountain View) would amend jury instructions to state that the use of societal bias and "panic strategies" cannot influence the proceedings of a criminal trial, as was attempted by defendants in the Gwen Araujo murder trials of 2004 and 2005. Araujo, 17, was a transgender teenager from Newark, California, whose killers claimed that "gay panic" caused them to react violently when they learned of her birth sex. The legislation could deter criminal defendants from trying to mitigate their crimes by appealing to societal bias to justify their actions.

AB1207, the Code of Campaign Practices, by Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would prohibit campaigns and candidates who sign the voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices from using prejudicial claims against LGBT people for their own political gains. A version of a similar bill from Yee that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed last year, AB1207 adds sexual orientation and gender identity to a wide range of groups already protected by the code.

On Wednesday morning, the futures of two remaining bills were uncertain, as the education committee was scheduled to hear them at 1:30 p.m.

A wide range of community groups stood in opposition to AB1218, for different reasons. The bill, titled "The William J. 'Pete' Knight Memorial Act", by Assemblyman Mark Wyland (R-Vista), would require that the Pledge of Allegiance be recited daily at elementary and secondary schools.

Without addressing the constitutional and separation of church and state issues often brought up by opponents of a mandatory Pledge of Allegiance, Equality California took an immediate position against the bill because of its namesake. Knight, the late homophobic senator who authored Proposition 22, California's gay marriage ban, should not be honored with this legislation, said EQCA Executive Director Geoffrey Kors.

"Pete Knight opposed the tenets of the pledge, which are liberty and justice for all," said Kors. "We strongly oppose this bill being named in honor of someone who was responsible for keeping a significant part of the population of California from having liberty and justice."

Also scheduled to be heard by the education committee on Wednesday was AB606, the "Safe Place to Learn Act" by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, (D-Van Nuys). The bill would require school districts to include antidiscrimination and antiharassment law trainings in their regular teacher trainings and provides penalties for school districts found to be in violation of that law.

On Tuesday, according to Kors, the California Teachers Association came out in opposition to the bill. This came as a surprise, said Kors, particularly since EQCA worked closely with CTA to defeat Schwarzenegger's initiatives that sought to limit teacher tenure and union activities in last fall's special election. Kors said his understanding was that CTA was objecting to AB606 because the union opposed mandatory trainings for teachers, though the bill simply adds curriculum to already-existing trainings, he said.

"Our community was there for the teachers in a big way, so it's disconcerting to see them do this," said Kors. "It's a two-year bill and they've had the language for a month, so to come out a day before and oppose it is something we wouldn't expect from a coalition partner. We've worked hard for the votes and I would have hoped that CTA would work with us on a compromise rather than opposing the entire bill."

At press time Kors said he did not believe CTA's opposition would keep it from initially passing through committee. CTA did not return repeated phone calls from the B.A.R. seeking comment.

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