California set to further protect LGBTQ youth with new laws

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 20, 2023
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The Legislature has sent Governor Gavin Newsom more than a dozen LGBTQ-related bills to consider signing into law. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office
The Legislature has sent Governor Gavin Newsom more than a dozen LGBTQ-related bills to consider signing into law. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office

With LGBTQ student rights coming under attack by conservative-led school boards and Republican leaders across California, a batch of bills expected to soon become law aims to provide a wide array of legal protections and support to LGBTQ youth inside and out of the classroom. The legislation is now before Governor Gavin Newsom to sign by an October 14 deadline to do so.

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 a Riverside County school district led to its elected board's reversing course on banning instructional materials that covered the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk.

It led Newsom's office to work closely with gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris) on amending his Assembly Bill 1078 so that it prohibits school districts from banning books in classrooms and libraries because of their LGBTQ content or covering topics like race. It includes an emergency clause, so the bill will take effect immediately once Newsom signs it.

Senate Bill 857 by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) requires State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to convene a task force on the needs of LGBTQ+ pupils by July 1, 2024. According to the bill, the advisory body would be tasked with assisting in the implementation of supportive policies and initiatives to address LGBTQ+ pupil education and issue a report on its work by January 1, 2026.

AB 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, authored by gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood), 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.

Under SB 760 by state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), all K-12 public schools in California would have to provide at least one easily accessible all-gender restroom for students "to use safely and comfortably during school hours."

Thurmond hailed the passage of the bills, having supported Laird's bill and co-sponsored the other three. Like Newsom, he has been front-and-center this year speaking out against the various anti-LGBTQ school policies being brought forward.

"Dangerous trends have emerged recently. A small group of extremists has sought to divide communities by advancing policies to ban books related to civil rights for communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community, to force school districts to 'out' LGBTQ+ students, and to restrict inclusive curriculum. We needed to act quickly and reject these policies," stated Thurmond.

While unlikely to be successful, conservatives continue to push back against Jackson's AB 1078 and have been calling on Newsom to veto the bill. In a recent email blast the California Policy Center criticized it for gutting the power of local school boards and parents.

"This bill is being marketed as an 'anti-book banning bill,' but it is designed to silence parents and school board members opposed to politicized and age-inappropriate sexualized instructional materials in schools. The bill is the height of legislative overreach and an affront to school board autonomy," stated the think tank.

LGBTQ college students also stand to benefit should AB 760, authored by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), become law. It 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 would make it easier for graduating students to have their chosen name be the sole name listed on their diploma.

Minors who seek a change of their gender or sex identifier would have their court records sealed under AB 223 by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego). Meanwhile, the courts would be allowed to consider the needs of trans youth during custody proceedings under Wilson's AB 957 dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act.

SB 407 authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) directs the state's Department of Social Services to amend the foster care vetting process to ensure LGBTQ foster youth are not placed in hostile foster homes. 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.

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. 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.

Bills address LGBTQ health concerns

Altogether, state lawmakers sent to the governor 17 LGBTQ-related bills to sign this year. As first reported online September 13, Newsom signed into law that Wednesday a bill that immediately ended the state's ban on using taxpayer money to pay for nonemergency travel to states that have enacted anti-LGBTQ laws since 2015.

The seven other bills all relate to various LGBTQ health concerns. 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.

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. 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.

AB 1487 by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) would 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 would need to be funded, though, in future state budgets.

Under AB 1163 by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) various state agencies and departments would have until July 1, 2026, to revise their public-use forms so they are more inclusive of individuals who identify as transgender, gender-nonconforming, or intersex. They would also need to collect data pertaining to the specific needs of such individuals, such as their medical care and mental health disparities, as well as the population size of the various communities.

AB 524 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) would make it unlawful for employers to refuse to hire, fire, demote, or take other adverse employment action against workers because of their responsibilities to their biological or chosen family members. And Zbur's AB 1645 would close loopholes and strengthen protections in existing law to ensure that California health insurers continue to provide free and complete coverage for preventive services like PrEP, an effective medicine for ensuring people remain HIV negative, and testing for STIs. It comes amid a federal lawsuit aimed at allowing business owners to cite their religious beliefs for not covering such preventive services in the health insurance policies they offer to employees.

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