Newsom repeals California's 'walking while trans' loitering law

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday July 1, 2022
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Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation repealing the state's loitering law. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office
Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation repealing the state's loitering law. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office

Governor Gavin Newsom on July 1 repealed California's "walking while trans" loitering law, ending nine months of speculation on whether he would do so. Sex worker advocates and LGBTQ leaders have denounced such criminal codes due to police using them to arrest transgender women who engage in prostitution in order to make a living.

The Golden State now joins the state of New York in repealing its loitering laws. The Empire State did so in 2021.

The California Legislature last year had approved the legislation repealing the state's Penal Code section 653.22, which makes it a misdemeanor to loiter in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution. But gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored Senate Bill 357, had withheld sending it to Newsom amid concerns that the governor would veto it.

The bill additionally allows a person convicted of loitering to petition the trial court for resentencing or dismissal of the charges, and the sealing of their records.

In a signing message Newsom pointed out how the crime of loitering has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown women and members of the LGBTQ community. Black adults accounted for 56.1 % of the loitering charges in Los Angeles between 20 17-2019, despite making up less than l 0% of the city's population, noted the governor.

But Newsom also said his administration would be watching to see if there were any repercussions in the enactment of SB 357.

"To be clear, this bill does not legalize prostitution," wrote Newsom in his message. "It simply revokes provisions of the law that have led to disproportionate harassment of women and transgendered adults. While I agree with the author's intent and I am signing this legislation, we must be cautious about its implementation. My administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts."

As the Bay Area Reporter first reported online Monday, June 20, Wiener made a motion that day to enroll SB 357, kick-starting the formal process to submit the bill to Newsom's desk. Considering the timing of Wiener's decision to finally submit the bill to Newsom during Pride Month, supporters of the legislation had expressed optimism that the governor would not veto it.

"Today, as trans people are being criminalized across the country, Governor Gavin Newsom has once again shown that California stands with the LGBTQ community and communities of color," Wiener stated shortly after the bill was signed. "Everyone — no matter their race, gender or how they make a living — deserves to feel safe on our streets. Thank you, especially, to our coalition of former and current sex workers and LGBTQ advocates who made this day a reality. Your leadership is inspiring."

Bamby Salcedo, a trans Latina immigrant woman who is the president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition based in Los Angeles, had told the B.A.R. that "sex work is work" and that sex workers needed to be supported and not harassed or jailed by the police.

"It will improve the quality of life for individuals who practice or exercise sex work," said Salcedo.

In urging Newsom last month to sign SB 357, Wiener had noted that the annual Pride celebrations aren't "just about rainbow flags and parades" but also about protecting the LGBTQ community's "most marginalized" members.

"This Pride Month, as we see a surge in violence against and harassment of the LGBTQ community, it is more important than ever to get rid of a law that targets our community," stated Wiener. "Current law essentially allows law enforcement to target and arrest people if they are wearing tight clothes or a lot of make-up. Many of those impacted by this law are Black and Brown trans women."

The legislation doesn't decriminalize soliciting or engaging in sex work but merely eliminates people being arrested on a loitering offense for "appearing" to be a sex worker, noted Wiener's office. The district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles supported the bill.

In the Legislature Wiener's bill faced opposition from a number of his Democratic colleagues in addition to Republican state legislators. As the B.A.R. first reported in January, nearly two-dozen Democratic legislators lost points on the annual scorecard produced by statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California for their not voting in support of SB 357.

In an interview earlier this year with the B.A.R., San Francisco Police Chief William Scott urged Newsom to sign SB 357 into law. He called it a "forward-thinking" measure that would assist the police in keeping people safe and protecting people from crimes.

"Sex workers are many times victims and get victimized of brutal crimes, robberies, sexual assaults, things like that," Scott had noted.

Certain police departments have already made changes in how they implement California Penal Code section 653.22, which makes it a misdemeanor to loiter in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution. In 2017, Scott issued a bulletin that clarified how San Francisco police officers should address a sex worker who is a victim or witness of a violent crime and/or who may be subject to arrest.

It stated they were not to arrest "persons for involvement in sex work or other forms of sex trade when they are victims or witnesses" to various crimes. Specifically, it said officers were not to arrest sex workers in such situations under the state penal code section relating to loitering.

Because of Wiener's bill, that section of the state penal code is now repealed.

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