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CA Rings in New LGBT Bills

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Redwood City resident Jarys Maragopoulos hailed the new state law that allows people to choose non-binary for their gender on state-issued IDs and other documents.
Redwood City resident Jarys Maragopoulos hailed the new state law that allows people to choose non-binary for their gender on state-issued IDs and other documents.  

Legislation that allows people to identify as non-binary on their birth certificates and other documents and a bill that decriminalizes HIV are among those that went into effect in California on January 1.

Two of the bills aim to ease the state's name change procedures for transgender, intersex, and non-binary individuals, though implementation of the new rules will be staggered throughout this year and next. Lesbian state Senate Pro Tempore-elect Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and gay Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) co-authored SB 179 - the Gender Recognition Act of 2017 - so that people can choose "non-binary" as the gender on their birth certificates and other government-issued documents.

Redwood City resident Jarys Maragopoulos, 33, who identifies as genderqueer and uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were born intersex and that "from around the time I was one to around the time I was five, I had five different surgeries" that "essentially masculinized me."

"I grew up thinking I was not fully human," said Maragopoulos, who sympathizes with their parents because "they did not know any better." They said that doctors told their parents that if they didn't make "every effort to socialize me as male, the surgery would not work."

Maragopoulos remembers "thinking I was not good enough. There was something about me that was so awful that I was rejected and had to be fixed."

Having already had their gender legally changed to nonbinary, Maragopoulos said the new state law "is incredibly benevolent. It feels for the first time like I live in a society that accepts me."

Beginning September 1, SB 179 will delete the requirement that a person undergoes treatment to seek a court judgment to recognize a change of gender. People will be able to choose "non-binary" on their driver's license beginning January 1, 2019.

Atkins' SB 310, the Name and Dignity Act, also addresses gender. The new law makes it easier for transgender people incarcerated in state prisons or county jails to change their legal name or gender marker. It also requires corrections officials to use the new name of a person who obtains a name change and to list their prior name only as an alias.

Starting September 1, SB 310 would remove limitations on name change petitions filed by state prisoners.

"Many of us have an ID that matches our gender presentation, and so showing it is hassle-free," stated Atkins. "But for Californians who have an ID that does not match their gender presentation, showing it at airports, in shops, or to law enforcement can be extremely stressful and lead to harassment or a delay in completing a transaction."

Another bill that will benefit transgender residents of the Golden State is Senate Bill 396, the Transgender Work Opportunity Act, authored by gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). It makes California the first in the nation to require training about gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation for business leaders.

The bill amends the state's existing two-hour sexual harassment training requirement in the Fair Housing and Employment Act to include training on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation for supervisory employees at companies with more than 50 employees.

The legislation, which took effect Monday, January 1, also requires businesses to post a poster developed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing on transgender rights. Last summer the state agency issued new rules requiring businesses to abide by their employees' preferred names and pronouns, and informed employers they also can't restrict a person's style of dress unless they prove it is necessary to do so for work purposes.

A bill co-authored by Wiener that sparked some controversy last year was SB 239, which modernizes the state's HIV criminalization laws adopted during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Before SB 239, HIV-positive people could be prosecuted for engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with the specific intent to transmit HIV even if no actual transmission of the virus occurred. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.

The new law requires proof that transmission of HIV did occur in order for a person to be prosecuted for intentionally transmitting the virus to a sex partner.

"Fundamentally, the heart of this bill is that being sick is a health issue not a criminal issue and treating people with a health condition as criminals doesn't make them healthy, doesn't reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it just pushes people into the shadows and makes matters worse," said Wiener.

Gay Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) co-authored the bill, which was backed by a number of legal groups, AIDS agencies, and the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality California.


Seniors, LGBT Data Bills Take Effect

As of the New Year operators of long-term care facilities in the state are required to protect their LGBT residents from being discriminated against due to Wiener's SB 219, known as the Seniors Long Term Care Bill of Rights.

"After struggling to come out at a time when same-sex conduct was still criminalized, and fighting the first and most difficult battles for LGBTQ civil rights, discrimination in long-term care is forcing many LGBTQ seniors back into the closet," stated Rick Zbur, executive director of EQCA, which sponsored the bill. "SB 219 would help protect LGBTQ seniors when they're at their most vulnerable, and help ensure that care facilities provide culturally-competent care."

Another LGBT-related bill, Assemblyman Mark Stone's (D-Monterey Bay) AB 1556, updates the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act to use gender inclusive language, such as "person" or "employee" instead of "he" or "she."

As the Bay Area Reporter detailed in a three-part series last summer, four state agencies, mainly dealing with health services, are required to begin collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) by July 1 of this year. The bill, authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), was adopted in 2015 but gave the agencies time to upgrade their systems and train staff on how to best ask the SOGI questions.

State agencies that deal with education and employment issues will be required to start collecting the SOGI data by July 1, 2019 due to AB 677, which Chiu authored last year. By next year the number of state agencies required to collect the SOGI data on their forms and surveys will total 10.


More Bills Set to Be Proposed

State lawmakers are expected to introduce a number of bills focused on additional LGBT issues during the new legislative session that began Wednesday, January 3. They have until February 16 to do so.

"We probably have about 20 bill ideas we're vetting" for introduction in 2018, Zbur said in an interview last week.

Areas of focus include protections for LGBTQ students.

"We'd like to see more cultural-competency training with teachers and school counselors," he said.

EQCA may also promote legislation for long-term care providers to be more culturally competent, Zbur said. Other possible bills would include accelerating implementation of Getting to Zero campaigns around the state. Such initiatives typically aim to eliminate new HIV infections, deaths due to HIV/AIDS, and stigma against people living with HIV.

Zbur said EQCA may also look at the "inherent discrimination LGBTQ people face in the criminal justice system."

As the B.A.R. noted in a story last week, Wiener is talking with the advocacy group about a bill that would address a discrepancy in how California treats same-sex couples under its statutory rape laws. A provision that exempts straight couples where the adult is within three years of age of the minor from having to register as a sex offender does not apply to gay or lesbian couples.

Last year Wiener was the lead author on SB 384, which beginning on January 1, 2021 creates a three-tiered system for the state's Sex Offender Registry with registration periods of upward of 10 years, 20 years, or life. The bill allows those on the registry who were targeted and arrested by police under former statutes that criminalized homosexual sex between adults, such as stings using undercover cops in public parks or at highway rest areas, to petition to be removed from it.

High-risk offenders will remain on the registry for life, while others will be able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on their offense. Beginning January 1, 2022, the bill would revise criteria for exclusion from the state's online registry.

"This bill was written by law enforcement and supported by rape crisis advocates because they know we need a sex offender registry system that actually works to protect people from those who pose a significant risk of committing sexual violence," stated Wiener.

The state's current list of more than 100,000 people is so expansive that it is of little use to law enforcement, argued advocates of the legislation. Initially, Lara had authored the bill but later switched with Wiener.

Dave Howe, 57, who lives in Alameda County, is a gay man who's on the registry for oral copulation with a minor. In an email exchange with the B.A.R., Howe said he was "shocked" SB 384 became law, since it had been shelved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee before Wiener revived it through a process known as gut-and-amend.

Howe said he would petition to be removed from the registry, since it's "been too long" since he's committed any crimes.

Under SB 384, people are supposed to be reclassified by January 1, 2021 and removals from the registry should begin January 1, 2022.

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