Newsom signs book ban, other LGBTQ bills

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday September 27, 2023
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Governor Gavin Newsom, left, signed a bill by Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D. that prohibits book banning in California schools. Photo: Courtesy the Governor's office
Governor Gavin Newsom, left, signed a bill by Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D. that prohibits book banning in California schools. Photo: Courtesy the Governor's office

With the stroke of his pen Governor Gavin Newsom has prohibited public schools in California from banning books due to their addressing LGBTQ or race-based topics. It is one of 11 LGBTQ-related bills that he has now signed into law since lawmakers ended their legislative session in September.

Late Monday, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1078 authored by gay freshman Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris). Because it included an urgency clause, the legislation immediately took effect. In addition to covering books in public school classrooms and libraries, the bill also restricts school boards from censoring instructional materials based on their LGBTQ content or coverage of topics like race.

The new law is in response to what Jackson called the disturbing trend of book banning that is taking place not only in California but also across the nation. Jackson had worked closely with Newsom's office on the language of AB 1078, as he amended the initial legislation he had filed earlier this year.

"It is the responsibility of every generation to continue the fight for civil and human rights against those who seek to take them away. Today, California has met this historical imperative, and we will be ready to meet the next one," touted Jackson in a September 25 statement.

Jackson was with the governor as he signed AB 1078, according to a video released by Newsom's office. In the video posted on X (formerly Twitter), Newsom noted California was the second state to pass such a law; Illinois adopted similar legislation, he said.

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously reported, Newsom has been out front this year in pushing back against a rollback of LGBTQ progress in the state's public schools. His threatening a major fine against the Temecula school district in Riverside County led to its elected board's reversing course on banning instructional materials that covered the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk.

In a statement, Newsom said AB 1078 builds on his "family agenda" to promote educational freedom and success. It was a not-so-veiled rebuke to the "parental rights" arguments conservative parents and Republican leaders have been making to push forward their attacks on the rights of LGBTQ pupils.

"From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools," Newsom stated. "With this new law, we're cementing California's role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what's right for them."

The bill strengthens current California law requiring schools to provide all students access to textbooks that teach about the Golden State's diverse communities, noted Newsom's office. It also empowers the state's superintendent of public instruction to buy textbooks for students in a school district, recoup costs, and assess a financial penalty if a school board willfully chooses to not provide sufficient standards-aligned instructional materials for students.

"AB 1078 sends a strong signal to the people of California — but also to every American — that in the Golden State — we don't ban books — we cherish them," stated State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who supported Jackson's legislation.

Thurmond, who on Tuesday made his 2026 gubernatorial candidacy official, has taken a prominent role this year in fighting for LGBTQ students in districts across the state. He was ejected from a school board meeting in Chino Hills after he spoke against the district's forced outing policy for trans students.

(That policy, which the school board adopted, has been put on hold by a judge who earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order after Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit. Nonetheless, a number of other school boards have enacted similar policies.)

"This law will serve as a model for the nation that California recognizes and understands the moment we are in - and while some want to roll back the clock on progress, we are doubling down on forward motion," stated Thurmond. "Rather than limiting access to education and flat out banning books like other states, we are embracing and expanding opportunities for knowledge and education, because that's the California way."

Newsom's wife, first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, also spoke in support of the new law. Among the issues she has championed in recent years are children's literacy and their participation in summer reading programs hosted by local libraries throughout the state. As the B.A.R. has previously reported, her initiative has included Siebel Newsom's reading LGBTQ children's books.

"When we restrict access to books in school that properly reflect our nation's history and unique voices, we eliminate the mirror in which young people see themselves reflected, and we eradicate the window in which young people can comprehend the unique experiences of others," stated Siebel Newsom. "In short, book bans harm all children and youth, diminishing communal empathy and serving to further engender intolerance and division across society. We Californians believe all children must have the freedom to learn about the world around them and this new law is a critical step in protecting this right."

Other LGBTQ bills to become law

A day after Newsom vetoed legislation aimed at protecting transgender youth during custody proceedings authored by Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), as the B.A.R. first reported online Friday night, he announced late Saturday evening that he had signed nine LGBTQ-related bills into law. Several are aimed at protecting LGBTQ young people, such as Senate Bill 407 by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

It directs the state's Department of Social Services to amend the foster care vetting process to ensure LGBTQ foster youth are not placed with foster families who will be hostile to them due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Wiener pointed out in pushing for passage of the bill, LGBTQ youth account for more than 30% of all youth in the foster care system.

Wiener praised the governor's action in a statement.

"LGBTQ youth deserve a supportive and affirming home the same as any other child," he stated. "I'm proud that California is taking this step to expand support for LGBTQ youth at a time when elected leaders in other states are targeting them with cruel restrictions and hate."

Other bills signed by the governor on September 23 that address LGBTQ youth needs include AB 5 by gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood). Dubbed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, it mandates that teachers and credentialed staff who serve public school pupils in grades seven to 12 annually take at least one hour of online training in LGBTQ cultural competency beginning with the 2025-2026 academic year through 2031. The California Department of Education expects to roll out the training by June 30, 2025, six years after state legislators adopted a bill calling for its creation.

In a post on X Zbur expressed his appreciation for Newsom's signing AB 5, noting it "will ensure teachers & school staff have the tools and training they need to support LGBTQ+ & all students. This long-standing priority is a win for every student and teacher in CA."

The governor also signed SB 857 by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), which requires Thurmond to convene a task force on the needs of LGBTQ+ pupils by July 1, 2024. According to the bill, the advisory body will be tasked with assisting in the implementation of supportive policies and initiatives to address LGBTQ+ pupil education and must issue a report on its work by January 1, 2026.

Also signed by Newsom was SB 760 authored by state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). It requires all K-12 public schools in California to provide at least one easily accessible all-gender restroom for students "to use safely and comfortably during school hours."

Having supported the trio of bills related to LGBTQ school issues, Thurmond praised Newsom for signing them into law.

"Dangerous trends have emerged recently. A small group of extremists have continued to levy attacks on California's schools, targeting LGBTQ+ students," stated Thurmond. "These measures will protect all members of the LGBTQ+ community and provide the resources needed to support all California students."

He noted that Newman's SB 760 came in response to an issue flagged by the State Superintendent's Safe School Bathroom Ad Hoc Committee formed in 2021. More than 30 high school and college students from across California were tapped to serve on it.

"I am so grateful for the hard work of everyone who has supported this bill," stated Jasper, whop was identified by one name and was one of the ad hoc committee members, in a statement released by Thurmond's office September 25. "SB 760 will provide a necessary, secure space for all students who are uncomfortable using sex-segregated restrooms."

Also set to become law due to Newsom's signing it is AB 223 by gay Assemblymember Christopher Ward (D-San Diego). It requires any petition for a change of gender and sex identifier by a minor to be kept confidential by the court.

"At a time when many of our public documents have become digitized and easily accessible by those who would do transgender youth harm, AB 223 will allow transgender youth the ability to share their personal information with whoever they wish when they are ready to disclose it," stated Ward, vice chair of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. "The Transgender Youth Privacy Act protects these youth from being bullied so they can navigate their daily lives as themselves."

Other bills signed

Newsom did sign AB 760 authored by Wilson, the mother of an adult trans son, that requires the California State University system and the University of California system by the 2024-25 academic year to have campus systems that are "fully capable" of allowing current students, staff, or faculty to declare an affirmed name, gender, or both name and gender identification. And beginning with the 2023-24 graduating class, AB 760 makes it easier for graduating students to have their chosen name be the sole name listed on their diploma.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) had his AB 783 signed by Newsom. It requires cities and counties to notify all business license applicants that single-user restrooms in any business, place of public accommodation, or government agency must be identified as all-gender restrooms. It is a way to ensure such establishments are following the six-year-old law requiring them to mark single-occupancy restrooms as being gender-neutral.

The governor also signed SB 372 by lesbian freshman state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley/Burbank). It will ensure that the public records kept by the state's Department of Consumer Affairs don't use the deadnames or disclose the home addresses of licensed mental health professionals.

Lastly, Newsom also signed Jackson's AB 994 that requires a police department or sheriff's office, when posting a suspect's booking photo on social media, uses the name and pronouns given by the individual arrested. The bill authorizes a police department or sheriff's office to use other legal names or known aliases of an individual in limited specified circumstances and requires the public safety agencies to remove any booking photo shared on social media after 14 days unless specified circumstances exist.

Most of the bills will take effect on January 1. In a news release announcing his signing the LGBTQ-related legislation, Newsom noted that the new laws "will help protect vulnerable youth, promote acceptance, and create more supportive environments in our schools and communities."

He added that "California is proud to have some of the most robust laws in the nation when it comes to protecting and supporting our LGBTQ+ community, and we're committed to the ongoing work to create safer, more inclusive spaces for all Californians."

Lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), who chairs the affinity group for LGBTQ members of the Legislature, was singled out for praise by Newsom. Termed out of her Senate seat in 2024, she will be stepping down as the caucus chair at the end of next year's legislative session.

"I thank Senator Eggman and the LGBTQ caucus for their dedicated leadership and partnership in advancing our state's values of equality, freedom, and acceptance," the governor stated.

Eggman stated that the caucus had a busy year in seeing LGBTQ-related legislation passed out of the Legislature.

"This year the LGBTQ caucus took up the important work of protecting our communities in the face of vile anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, discriminatory laws across the country, and hatred," she stated. "I appreciate the governor's partnership in signing some of our priority and endorsed legislation today, and hope we can continue to educate about the harm LGBTQ+ people will continue to face if we fail to act."

She was referring to the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills passed and adopted in other states, including those that affect trans youth, such as bans from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. Her statement came a day after the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus had expressed its "profound disappointment" in seeing Newsom veto Wilson's AB 957.

Having also expressed disappointment in Newsom for his vetoing the legislation, statewide LGBTQ rights organization Equality California offered praise to the governor for allowing the other LGBTQ-related bills to become law.

"While states across the nation are passing legislation that puts LGBTQ+ people and especially youth at risk, California is sending a clear message today — hate-filled attacks will not be tolerated and we will continue protecting and ensuring the safety of all members of the LGBTQ+ community," stated EQCA Executive Director Tony Hoang, a gay man. "We are thankful to our legislative partners for championing these important bills and to Governor Newsom for continuing to be such a strong ally in improving and protecting the wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community as we face growing attacks from far-right extremists."

As of the B.A.R.'s press deadline at noon Wednesday, Newsom had signed 11 LGBTQ-related bills into law. Two weeks ago he had signed SB 447 by lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), instantly repealing California's ban on publicly funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

The governor has until October 14 to sign or veto six remaining LGBTQ-related bills that the B.A.R. has been tracking this legislative session.

Matthew S. Bajko contributed reporting.

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