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Guest Opinion: California vs. 34 other states: The fight to defend our transgender and gender-nonconforming community

by David Chiu

Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) marched in the 2019 San Francisco Pride parade with his son, Lucas. Photo: Courtesy Assemblyman Chiu's office
Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) marched in the 2019 San Francisco Pride parade with his son, Lucas. Photo: Courtesy Assemblyman Chiu's office  

This year, GOP-controlled states throughout our country have advanced an unprecedented number of discriminatory bills targeting our transgender and gender-nonconforming community, particularly TGNC young people. According to GLAAD, as of this Pride Month, 114 bills targeting the TGNC community have been introduced in 34 state legislatures this year. From denying access to gender-affirming health care to preventing ID cards from reflecting a person's gender identity to barring students from athletics and learning about LGBTQ+ history, these bills have been dehumanizing and seek to exclude an entire community from full participation in society.

As America recovers from the most devastating pandemic in a century and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it's astonishing that Republican lawmakers would see denying health care and stopping kids from playing sports as top priorities. On top of the mental health challenges facing all students this past year with distance learning, these actions have significantly impacted the mental health of TGNC youth. A national survey by the Trevor Project documented how the current political climate has negatively affected the mental health and sense of self of over three-quarters of LGBTQ+ youth, and TGNC youth ages 13-17 were more likely than their cisgender peers to consider suicide and attempt self-harm.

These are our children we're talking about. Policymakers should be pushing programs that support and empower young people to realize their full potential. Yet many seem determined to score political points and divide our communities by targeting our most vulnerable.

I'm proud that California has been different. Our state has stood for justice, dignity, and equal treatment under the law, and many of our policymakers believe that every child — no matter where they are from or how they identify — deserves to live their lives with authenticity and pride. A few weeks ago, a supermajority of the California Assembly (including a handful of Republicans) voted to support my Assembly Bill 245 to prevent deadnaming on diplomas and student records for TGNC graduates of public universities and community colleges. This builds on my AB 711 to prevent deadnaming for TGNC K-12 graduates, which was sponsored by Equality California and the Transgender Law Center and signed into law in 2019 by Governor Gavin Newsom. By removing these barriers and preventing trauma associated with deadnaming and misused pronouns, we can empower our young people to pursue their dreams without fear of being outed or discriminated against due to incongruent documents.

Along with protecting our students, we must fight to ensure all TGNC individuals have access to gender-affirming healthcare and are ensured their privacy when they do. To this end, I authored this year AB 1184, to protect confidentiality when a patient accesses sensitive services like gender-affirming care or reproductive care. Sponsored by Planned Parenthood, AB 1184 would establish automatic confidentiality by putting the burden of confidentiality on health insurance companies rather than patients. In addition to gender-affirming care, the bill also covers behavioral health care and substance use care. AB 1184 passed the Assembly last month and is now being considered by the state Senate.

As we recover from the pandemic, we must address long-standing inequities when it comes to unemployment and lack of economic opportunity by our transgender and gender-nonconforming community. This year, I authored AB 915 to establish a procurement goal of 25% of all state contracts for small and diverse businesses, including LGBTQ+ small businesses. We need to take advantage of the billions of dollars of California's enormous purchasing power to lift up small businesses hit hard during COVID and ensure they receive their fair share of state contracts. Recently passed by the Assembly, we will continue to advocate for AB 915 until it gets to the governor's desk. This builds on last year's work on economic empowerment with AB 979, which I helped to author to require corporate boards to include a minimum number of board members from underrepresented communities, including our LGBTQ+ community.

During this Pride Month, I reflect on the incredible honor I've had to work alongside our LGBTQ+ communities to achieve equity and equality in California. Together, we can work to secure a future where all LGBTQ+ Californians, particularly those who are transgender and gender non-conforming, feel safe, secure, and proud in our communities. Happy Pride, everyone!

Assemblyman David Chiu, a straight ally, represents San Francisco's 17th District. He will be contributing op-eds on a quarterly basis to the Bay Area Reporter.

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