Wiener introduces bill to ensure collection of LGBTQ health data

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 23, 2024
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State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office<br><br><br><br><br><br>
State Senator Scott Wiener. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation to ensure that state health officials are meeting their requirements to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity demographics. It is in response to a scathing 2023 report from California's state auditor that found the statewide health department's SOGI data collection efforts were woefully inadequate.

California State Auditor Grant Parks last April released a 45-page report titled "The California Department of Public Health: It Has Not Collected and Reported Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Data as State Law Intended." As the Bay Area Reporter noted, myriad issues have derailed the collection of the LGBTQ health information that was required to be gathered beginning in 2016.

One of his findings was that 105 out of 129 forms used by the state health department were exempted from collecting SOGI data because a third party, such as a local health jurisdiction, oversaw them. And only 17 of the 24 forms that had been required to collect SOGI data did so "in a complete manner," Parks noted.

Since the audit's release, the state health department has been working to address the various issues raised by the auditor's office, as the B.A.R. reported last fall. It's been reviewing and updating the forms it uses to ensure they include SOGI questions and that the phrasing of the queries are up to date. It also gathered feedback regarding the standardized definition, wording, and format of SOGI data questions and response fields to be used.

Nonetheless, state health officials have informed Parks it will be years before all of the forms have the required SOGI questions. One reason being the state health department is moving to a new surveillance system.

It is requiring the outsider vendors it uses to include the SOGI data fields. But as the B.A.R. noted in a December story, the state health department has said for the updates to be in place by July 1, 2026 will require additional state funding. With California lawmakers facing a growing budget crisis, it remains to be seen if such funding will be allocated this year.

To ensure that all forms used by the health agency collect SOGI data, Wiener decided to introduce his legislation, Senate Bill 957, which he is officially doing Tuesday (January 23). Speaking to the B.A.R. Monday, Wiener said his bill merely aims to put into law what the auditor asked California Department of Public Health officials to do to resolve all the issues the audit found regarding the gathering of the LGBTQ health data.

One of the most important, said Wiener, is seeing that state health officials add the SOGI questions to all the forms they use.

"This should be a no-brainer," Wiener said of adopting his legislation. "It is the most glaring problem and a problem that cried out for a legislative fix."

Since the lackluster collection of SOGI data by health officials at all levels of government became glaringly obvious at the onset of the COVID pandemic, for which there was no accurate data tracking how the novel coronavirus was impacting the LGBTQ community, Wiener has spoken out about the need to address the issue, along with other state legislators and LGBTQ advocates.

He told the B.A.R. the legislators have taken the proper approach to fix the problems with the SOGI data collection, from trying to work with health officials to passing emergency legislation and then calling for an audit when those efforts failed to bring about a remedy.

"We did it the right way," he said. "We did the audit and it showed the problems at CDPH. Now we are making sure all these forms include sexual orientation and gender identity demographics."

Wiener expects his latest bill will receive broad support from his legislative colleagues this year.

"I suspect we will get strong support," he predicted. "Our original bill in 2020, I believe, we passed unanimously, so my colleagues understand the value of this data."

Since his meetings in the first half of last year with CDPH officials, Wiener said he has not had additional sit-downs to discuss the department's actions it has taken to address the audit findings. He told the B.A.R. his bill is based on the conversations he did have with the statewide agency.

"It is based on their input from when we met with them about the audit and all of the challenges. We were aware of their perspective," said Wiener. "They want to do a good job and want to get this data. They always expressed that to us."

He added that he would be monitoring the progress the department makes in addressing the myriad issues revealed in the audit. If additional bills are needed, Wiener said he would look at introducing them.

"If we end up having to add in more or do additional legislation down the road, I am certainly open to that," said Wiener, who is seeking another four-year term this November.

His latest bill should have its first hearing in March or April. If enacted, it would take effect next January 1 and require that the state health department comply with its SOGI data collection requirements by July 1, 2026.

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