CA LGBTQ laws take effect January 1

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 27, 2023
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State Senator John Laird's SB 857 goes into effect January 1. Photo: Courtesy John Laird
State Senator John Laird's SB 857 goes into effect January 1. Photo: Courtesy John Laird

Two years ago when students at Paso Robles High School defecated on a Pride flag that had been displayed at their school, their actions generated national news coverage. In response, school officials adopted a restrictive flag policy over the protests of LGBTQ students.

The controversy caught the attention of gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), then finishing his first year in the Legislature's upper chamber. He ended up taking about 20 members of the school's LGBTQ student group out to lunch with their faculty adviser, as their advocacy had led to some positive changes within their school district.

"The administration wouldn't do anything about it and the school board wouldn't do anything about it. The students themselves held a town meeting," recalled Laird, who also honored the youth during Pride Month in 2022. "After it became a front-page story in the local newspaper, then the administration and school board reversed themselves."

With the incident in his Central Coast Senate district top of mind, Laird agreed to introduce legislation earlier this year calling for the creation of a statewide task force on the needs of LGBTQ+ pupils. The idea had come to his attention by the youth-led nonprofit California Association of Student Councils.

Laird's Senate Bill 857 sailed through the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in the fall. As lawmakers were voting on it, there was a groundswell of anti-LGBTQ policies being adopted by conservative-led school boards across the state.

"The landscape of the issue is changing so fast, I think the best solution is to implement vessels of change that can adapt to them. This committee is a great way to really address them head on with concrete solutions," said Estelle Kim, a straight ally who served as the student member of the school board in Chino Hills during the 2021-2022 academic year.

At the time a proposed ban on transgender students using restrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity was narrowly defeated by her school board. Yet this year the Chino Valley Unified School District board adopted a mandatory outing policy of trans students to their parents, most of which is currently blocked by the courts as a legal battle over it wages on.

Kim, 18, now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, had worked with Laird on his bill in her capacity as the governmental affairs and policy director for the student councils association, a volunteer role she stepped down from last spring. The law requires State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to convene the LGBTQ student task force by July 1.

"I looked at the proposal as a great idea for student constituents and experts to have a direct voice in how the Department of Education runs its programs," Kim told the Bay Area Reporter recently by phone just prior to leaving her college campus for the winter break. "Then we would have more effective solutions for a lot of problems LGBTQ youth are facing right now."

Brody Fernandez, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, told the B.A.R. the state agency will be meeting with Laird's office in January to discuss a formal announcement for the application process and the member-selection process for the task force. He said the application and selection process will mirror the one the department used for its Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup, "in that credentials, lived-experience, and expertise in this particular topic will be highly prioritized."

Laird told the B.A.R. he wants to see the new advisory group come together as soon as possible.

"I am hoping students in particular will talk about what life has been like for them when harassed or left to fend for themselves, and we have school leaders across the state learn from it," said Laird.

Other laws

His legislation is just one of several LGBTQ-related bills adopted by state lawmakers that go into effect as of January 1. A number of them are focused on LGBTQ youth and school issues, such as SB 407 by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that requires foster care officials ensure LGBTQ children in the system are placed with foster families that will be supportive of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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

The state education department's Fernandez noted it already has a dedicated webpage with guidance and information on all-access restrooms here. Its School Facilities and Transportation Services Division produced it to assist local education leaders as they design and add such facilities to school grounds.

"The Department is working to provide additional guidance to meet the requirements of SB 760," wrote Fernandez in an emailed reply earlier this month.

In a related matter, local governments as of the new year will be required to notify business license applicants that single-user restrooms must be identified as all-gender under Assembly Bill 783 authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). It is aimed at ensuring businesses comply with an earlier bill Ting saw to passage calling for the establishments to have such bathrooms, as Ting told the B.A.R. he continues to see non-compliance with the requirement.

"Because the majority of businesses are complying with my 2016 bill, AB 1732, we've made significant strides in providing equal restroom access for all in California. However, there's still room for improvement," stated Ting. "AB 783 seeks greater compliance throughout the state. Doing so will improve safety, fairness and convenience, especially for LGBTQ individuals, women, parents and caretakers."

Similar to a bill calling for pharmacists licensed by California to receive LGBTQ cultural competency training that was passed last year but takes effect in 2024 (see related story), legislation adopted in 2022 calling for death certificates to list a decedent's parents without referring to the parents' gender has an enactment date to be met by next summer. Co-authored by lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), AB 2436 requires the State Registrar to implement the changes by July 1.

The change aims to benefit LGBTQ+ parents as they navigate estate proceedings and other matters following the death of a child. It builds on a previous law pushed by Bauer-Kahan that added nonbinary as a gender option on the forms.

State Senator Caroline Menjivar's SB 372 goes into effect January 1. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Menjivar  

In a similar vein, SB 372 authored by lesbian freshman state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley/Burbank) ensures 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. And police departments or sheriff's offices, when posting a suspect's booking photo on social media, must use the name and pronouns given by the individual arrested due to AB 994 by gay freshman Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris).

The bill does authorize using other legal names or known aliases of an individual in limited specified circumstances. It also requires the public safety agencies to remove any booking photo shared on social media after 14 days unless specified circumstances exist.

Under AB 760 authored by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), the California State University system and the University of California system by the 2024-25 academic year must 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.

Assemblymember Chris Ward's AB 223 goes into effect January 1. Photo: Courtesy Assemblymember Ward  

Also taking effect as of January 1 is AB 223, which was authored by gay Assemblymember Chris 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.

Speaking to the B.A.R. during a recent visit to San Francisco, Ward said the idea for the bill came from a transgender advocate in his district who had heard about trans students being outed by their classmates after finding their legal documentation posted online.

"I think it is vitally important and one meaningful step we can take to show that we are responding to the safety of, and protecting and supportive of, transgender members of our community," said Ward, vice chair of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

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