LGBTQ advocates slam Newsom for trans veto

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday September 27, 2023
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Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City) spoke on the Assembly floor September 14, the last day of the legislative session. Photo: Courtesy the assemblymember's Instagram page<br>
Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City) spoke on the Assembly floor September 14, the last day of the legislative session. Photo: Courtesy the assemblymember's Instagram page

LGBTQ advocates slammed Governor Gavin Newsom for vetoing a bill that would have required state judges to take into account parental support for their transgender children during custody disputes. Meanwhile, the author of the bill intends to continue pressing the need to ensure trans youth are protected by the judicial system.

Late Friday night Newsom announced his veto of Assembly Bill 957 by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), the mother of an adult trans son. The legislation, dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act, would have required courts "to strongly consider" if a parent is affirming of their child's gender identity or gender expression, and if they consent to legally changing the child's name and gender marker to mirror their preferred gender, when considering the legal guardianship and visitation rights of the minor's divorcing parents.

But Newsom, in his first veto of an LGBTQ-related bill sent to him this legislative session, rejected AB 957 for going too far in restricting the independence of judges who preside over custody cases. He argued in his veto message that the courts "under existing law" are already required to consider if a parent affirms their child's gender identity, along with which parent will be best at ensuring the "health, safety, and welfare" of a child during custody or visitation proceedings.

"I appreciate the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill. I share a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians, an effort that has guided my decisions through many decades in public office," wrote Newsom. "That said, I urge caution when the Executive and Legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate — in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic — legal standards for the Judicial branch to apply. Other-minded elected officials, in California and other states, could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities."

The San Francisco-based Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club strongly condemned Newsom's veto, calling it "outrageous" in a statement it released late Sunday evening on its Facebook page.

"We cannot fathom his decision to block judges' consideration of a child's well-being and a parent's affirmation of their gender identity in custody decisions," stated the progressive political group.

Milk club President Jeffrey Kwong criticized Newsom, widely expected to run for president at some point, for "playing politics in the fight for transgender rights and protection. His deplorable veto will endanger transgender children, subjecting them to potentially harmful situations in family court."

Jonathan Cook, the former executive director of the Solano Pride Center, also called out Newsom in a post on X, formerly Twitter, early Saturday morning. He called attention to Newsom's contradictory actions of vetoing Wilson's bill after lashing out last year against Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott for calling on people to report parents of trans children receiving gender-affirming care for abuse. Newsom had noted in a 2022 tweet that his gubernatorial counterpart's "order is a direct assault on their wellbeing. To fearful families in Texas right now — California's door is always open to you."

Cook, now executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, argued that Newsom could have protected trans kids by signing AB 957 into law. Instead, "your veto is a direct assault on their wellbeing," he wrote.

Other LGBTQ advocacy groups expressed more measured disappointment with Newsom, who has long championed LGBTQ rights since serving as a San Francisco supervisor in the late 1990s and then mayor in the 2000s. The national Human Rights Campaign on Monday tweeted, "While we appreciate Governor Newsom's efforts to protect LGBTQ+ people, we are disappointed" by his veto of AB 957.

It did so in a repost of a post on X from Equality California on Saturday in which the statewide group stated it was "disappointed and disheartened" by Newsom's vetoing the bill. It also expressed gratitude for Wilson's "unwavering commitment to the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming young people — until the work is done."

It noted with LGBTQ+ youth, specifically trans youth, "facing higher rates of depression and suicide, reassurance and protection from our state is in dire need. Anti-LGBTQ+ extremists targeted this modest and straightforward legislation as part of their coordinated attacks on trans youth in California, and the failure to enact this bill bolsters their dangerous efforts."

In a September 15 email the conservative California Policy Center had urged its supporters to contact Newsom's office and demand he veto AB 957, arguing it would put children at risk during custody battles. It also argued if enacted, the law would "be used to intimidate parents into consenting to their child receiving puberty blockers or radical gender-altering surgeries as a condition of having visitation or custody rights. It will certainly encourage some parents to push their children to 'transition' under false pretenses to secure a favorable custody order."

Conservative Assemblymember Bill Essayli (R-Riverside) hailed the gubernatorial veto of the bill as a "huge victory" for parental rights in a post on X Monday.

"When a child is experiencing gender dysphoria, the last thing government should do is separate that child from a loving parent," wrote Essayli. "We've known the vast majority of people agree children are the domain of their parents, not the government. The Governor cannot ignore our message."

As for Wilson, she released a statement late Friday noting that she was "extremely disappointed" by Newsom's decision to veto her bill, as the Bay Area Reporter first reported online September 22. While the governor has championed "the LGBTQ+ community for years and even before it was popular to do so," stated Wilson, as for how best to protect TGI children during custody proceedings, "the Governor and I disagree."

Despite the legislative setback, Wilson stated that she will continue fighting for trans youth.

"I've been disheartened over the last few years as I watched the rising hate and heard the vitriol toward the trans community. My intent with this bill was to give them a voice, particularly in the family court system where a non-affirming parent could have a detrimental impact on the mental health and well-being of a child," Wilson stated. "Whether the roadblock comes from the opposition or even a supporter, it only hardens my resolve. I'm far from done, this fight is personal! Not just for my family, but to all the trans kids that deserve a brighter and safer future."

In March, when Wilson was working to advance the bill, she pointed out that TGI youth are at risk for mental health challenges.

"As the mother of a trans child, it is jarring to know that TGI youth are at a higher risk of depression, mental health crises, self-harm, and suicide than their cisgender peers," Wilson stated in a release posted on her Assembly website. "Family courts are required to consider a variety of factors when determining the best interest of the child for the purposes of custody and visitation, including the health, safety and welfare of the child, any history of abuse, and history of substance abuse."

Her TGI Youth Empowerment Act, Wilson noted, would have provided "California the opportunity to take one step closer to building a safer, more dignified, and equitable world for TGI youth and their families."

Although he vetoed Wilson's bill, Newsom has been out front this year in pushing back against a rollback of the rights of LGBTQ youth, particularly in the state's public schools, as the B.A.R. has reported. 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.

Late Monday, Newsom signed into law a bill that prohibits school boards from banning books from public school classrooms and libraries. (See related story.) Due to the inclusion of an urgency clause by its author, gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), AB 1078 immediately took effect.

As of the B.A.R.'s press deadline at noon Wednesday, Newsom had signed 11 LGBTQ-related bills that lawmakers had sent to his desk this year. He 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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