CA lawmakers send pro-LGBTQ school bills to governor

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday September 12, 2023
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Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D. Photo: From Jackson's Facebook page
Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D. Photo: From Jackson's Facebook page

California lawmakers have sent a number of pro-LGBTQ school bills to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign amid an assault on the rights of queer and transgender students waged by conservative-led school boards this year. Among the legislation is a bill aimed at prohibiting school districts from banning LGBTQ-themed books and curriculum.

Assembly Bill 1078, authored by gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), prohibits the censorship or removal of books, instructional materials, or curriculum resources that state law requires be reflected in instructional materials from classrooms and school libraries. The contributions of the LGBTQ community are among the social studies lessons schools in California are required to teach.

"We're taking a firm stand against book banning in California's schools, ensuring that our students have access to a broad range of educational materials that accurately represent the rich cultural and racial diversity of our society," stated Jackson.

Due to the bill having been amended, AB 1078 passed out of the state Senate on a 31-9 vote September 7. That same Thursday the Assembly adopted the revised bill by 61-17 vote with two abstentions.

As Jackson had worked with the governor's office on the legislation, Newsom is expected to sign it into law. Earlier this year the governor threatened a $1.5 million fine against the Temecula Valley Unified School District in Riverside County after its board rejected instructional materials due to their inclusion of the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. Faced with such a stiff penalty, the board members later reversed course.

Newsom rarely comments on bills before they reach his desk. But he praised the Legislature's passage of AB 1078 in a statement released by Jackson's office last week.

"California is the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what's right for them," stated Newsom, a former San Francisco supervisor and mayor. "With the passage of this legislation that bans book bans and ensures all students have textbooks, our state's Family Agenda is now even stronger. All students deserve the freedom to read and learn about the truth, the world, and themselves."

Another closely watched LGBTQ school bill is AB 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, authored by gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood). It would mandate that teachers and credentialed staff who serve public school pupils in grades 7 to 12 annually take at least one hour of online training in LGBTQ cultural competency beginning with the 2025-2026 academic year. The bill would sunset on July 31, 2031 and officially be repealed as of 2032.

A bill adopted in 2019 had called for such training but the necessary funding to create it wasn't allocated until 2021. The California Department of Education now expects to roll it out by June 30, 2025.

Initially, Zbur's bill called for school employees to have four hours of such training every three years but was amended earlier this year. Also removed from the bill was a requirement that school districts post online the training records of their personnel; the bill still requires such information be kept but only made available via a public records request.

The Assembly passed the amended version September 11 by a 65-0 vote with 15 abstentions. AB 5 had passed out of the Senate September 7 by a 32-3 vote with five abstentions.

"This bill will give teachers the training they need — and WANT — to provide a safe & welcoming space for LGBTQ+ & ALL students," Zbur wrote on X (formerly Twitter) after it passed out of the Senate last week.

In another potential win for LGBTQ school advocates, the Senate on September 11 adopted by a 32-7 vote with one abstention Senate Bill 760 by state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), which would require all K-12 schools in California to provide at least one accessible all-gender restroom for students "to use safely and comfortably during school hours."

It is believed to be "first-of-its-kind" legislation, according to LGBTQ advocates, and comes as lawmakers in other states restrict people's usage of public bathrooms to those that align with the sex they were given at birth. The Assembly had passed it September 7 by a 65-6 vote with nine abstentions.

Other bills protect LGBTQ youth

Several other bills protective of LGBTQ youth are also pending before Newsom to sign into law or veto by October 14. One of the more closely watched is AB 957 by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act. It would allow courts to consider a parent's affirmation of their child's gender identity when making decisions about visitation and custody.

The bill would also require courts to strongly consider that affirming a child's gender identity is in the best interest of the child when one parent does not consent to a minor's legal name change to conform with the minor's gender identity. It passed out of the Senate 30-9 with one abstention September 6 and two days later sailed through the Assembly on a 61-16 vote with three abstentions.

Another bill aims to protect the privacy of transgender youth in California. AB 223 by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) would require the courts to seal any petition for a change of gender or sex identifier filed by a minor. It passed out of the Senate September 6 on a 32-6 vote with two abstentions, and the Assembly adopted the amended bill the next day on a 64-8 vote with eight abstentions.

Gender-nonconforming youth and adults could soon find some relief should Newsom sign AB 783 by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), as it would require 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. Under a previous bill that took effect in 2017, the state has required establishments with single-occupancy restrooms to mark them as being gender-neutral.

It passed out of the Senate 31-7 with two abstentions September 5 and was adopted by the Assembly September 7 on a 67-10 vote with three abstentions.

Bills tackling LGBTQ health care issues

Legislators also have adopted several bills supportive of LGBTQ health care services. For example, SB 487 by outgoing lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) would ensure that a health insurer, or health care service plan, doesn't penalize a licensed California health care provider who performs gender-affirming care services.

It also protects abortion providers and prohibits insurers from discriminating or refusing to contract with a provider sanctioned in another state for providing care that is legal in California but illegal in another state. The bill was sent to Newsom to sign after the Senate adopted it September 11 on a 31-8 vote with one abstention following the Assembly amending it and approving it September 7 by a 64-15 vote with one abstention.

"As states continue to put restrictions and bans on women's reproductive rights and gender-affirming care, providers in California continue to step forward, helping an increased number of patients coming here for care and traveling out of state to help those in need," stated Atkins. "This bill would ensure there is no disruption in a provider's ability to perform abortion care in California, where it is legal and enshrined in our state constitution. Even if a provider is penalized in another state, they will still be able to provide both of these critically needed services here."

In a similar vein, AB 1432 by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would close loopholes in existing law to ensure that health insurance policies provided to Californians by out-of-state employers with out-of-state insurance contracts include coverage for abortion and gender-affirming care. The Senate adopted it September 6 by a 32-8 vote and the next day the Assembly approved it 64-15 with one abstention.

SB 372 by lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) would 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. By a 36-4 vote the Senate sent the bill to Newsom a day after the Assembly had adopted it September 5 by a 63-5 vote with 12 abstentions.

Also now before the governor is AB 1487 by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). It aims to establish the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Wellness Reentry Fund to provide grants for reentry programming "specifically to support transgender, gender variant, and intersex people who have experienced carceral systems."

It includes no funding, though the bill's backers would like to secure at least $5 million for it. It mirrors the state fund Santiago pushed to create that pays for trans health care services several years ago, which Newsom appropriated $13 million for in 2021.

The Senate passed AB 1487 September 6 by a 32-1 vote with seven abstentions. On Monday, the Assembly adopted it 65-4 with 11 abstentions.

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