Browns signs gay panic, death certificate bills
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Criminal defendants in California won't be able to use victims' sexual orientation or gender identity to help fight charges, and death certificates have to reflect people's lived gender identity now that Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law bills that address those issues, among other LGBT-related legislation. Most of the new laws are expected to take effect January 1.
Saturday, September 27, Brown signed Assembly Bill 2501, which was authored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) and prohibits the use of the "panic defense," where people charged with murder try to excuse their acts by claiming the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity triggered them.
"The gay panic defense was an unjust means of absolving violent criminal acts. Eliminating this excuse vindicates victims and holds predators accountable," Attorney General Kamala Harris, who co-sponsored the first-of-its kind bill with Equality California, said in a news release from the LGBT lobbying group.
"The 'panic defense' is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them," Rick Zbur, EQCA's executive director, stated. "It has no place in California's legal system."
Locally, the 2002 murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo, 17, brought attention to trans panic defense tactics. Araujo reportedly engaged in anal and/or oral sex with Michael Magidson, Jose Merel, and his brother Paul Merel, who didn't participate in the killing. Magidson and Merel claimed that the discovery of Araujo's birth gender had threatened their sexualities and self-images.
Another EQCA-backed bill signed into law is Assembly Bill 1577, which Brown signed Friday, September 26. Known as the Respect After Death Act, the law ensures death certificates for transgender people reflect their lived identities.
The bill, authored by lesbian Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was inspired by the death of Christopher Lee, a San Francisco artist and transgender advocate who had the wrong gender on his death certificate after his suicide in 2012.
Transgender Law Center co-sponsored AB 1577, which takes effect July 1.
Masen Davis, the nonprofit's executive director, stated it "brings us a significant step closer to making sure that all transgender people are able to live – and die – authentically in accordance with who they really are."
Also Friday, Brown signed into law AB 496, "which clarifies that existing cultural competency training for health care providers should include discussion of LGBT issues," according to a news release from EQCA, which supported the bill by gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park).
Another bill that Gordon authored and Brown signed Friday is AB 1678, which encourages public utilities to enter into contracts with LGBT-owned businesses by extending the Supplier Diversity Program administered by the California Public Utilities Commission to LGBT business enterprises. Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) co-sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Under current law, electrical, gas, water, and other public utilities with annual revenues of more than $25 million have to implement programs encouraging business with enterprises owned by women, disabled veterans, or designated minorities. The new law adds certified LGBT-owned enterprises.
"This legislation not only addresses economic disparities, but also empowers LGBT entrepreneurs to contribute to California's continued economic growth," Gordon stated.
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce sponsored AB 1678. Michael Yamashita is the publisher of the Bay Area Reporter , which is majority gay-owned and a member of the gay and lesbian chamber.
"Thanks to Assemblyman Rich Gordon and Senator Mark Leno, California is starting to enlarge the contracting process to include LGBT-owned businesses," Yamashita said in an email. "Hopefully this will eventually include all contracts, and expand to other states and the federal government. LGBT entrepreneurs need to be identified and quantified, because our businesses pay taxes and contribute to the economy of our communities and should be recognized for it."
Brown also signed another LGBT-related bill into law Friday. AB 2344, authored by gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), will help "reduce unnecessary legal actions involving families who use assisted reproductive technologies" such as surrogacy or in vitro fertilization. It primarily benefits LGBT couples who have families through assisted reproductive technologies, according to Ammiano's office.
Finally Friday, Brown signed AB 966, which requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a five-year plan to distribute condoms in all state prisons. The law is aimed at decreasing HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted infections. Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) authored the bill.
"As the first California governor to sign a bill to mandate the distribution of condoms in prison, Governor Brown has demonstrated the courage to directly address this unsettling and sometimes disturbing topic," Bonta stated.