Federal judge tosses suit against Wiener's trans refuge law

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 9, 2024
Share this Post:
State Senator Scott Wiener declared victory after a judge tossed a lawsuit against his trans refuge law. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office
State Senator Scott Wiener declared victory after a judge tossed a lawsuit against his trans refuge law. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Wiener's office

A federal court threw out a lawsuit April 8 that claimed California's Transgender State of Refuge law is unconstitutional.

Our Watch with Tim Thompson filed suit against Attorney General Rob Bonta on March 7, 2023, alleging Senate Bill 107 — authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) — violated parental rights.

SB 107 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) in 2022, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, and went into effect last year.

The law contains three main components. It prohibits California law enforcement from cooperating with other states in enforcing laws that authorize agencies of those states to remove a child from their parent or guardian based on the child receiving gender-affirming care.

It also prohibits compliance with any out-of-state subpoenas seeking health or other related information about people who come to California seeking gender-affirming care, if the subpoena relates to efforts to remove trans children from their parents. Lastly, it restricts law enforcement from arresting or extraditing individuals to other states for receiving or providing gender-affirming care where that conduct is lawful in California.

The law made California a "refuge for trans kids and their families," in the words of a 2022 Newsom news release. The conservative nonprofit Our Watch with Tim Thompson filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California alleging that SB 107 is unconstitutional.

In its civil complaint, Our Watch with Tim Thompson claimed it had been directly harmed by the legislation.

"Since the enactment of SB 107, Our Watch has diverted resources from its other focus areas like critical race theory and abortion rights to counteract the harms of SB 107. The organization has implemented new educational outreach programs outside of California and even funded de-transitioning teenagers to come on the organization's podcast to speak on the issue," the group contended in its civil complaint.

Judge Dale Drozd disagreed. He granted a defense motion to dismiss the case April 8. In his decision, Drozd stated that "plaintiff's decision to place more focus and correspondingly commit more of its resources to 'transgender issues' (at the expense of 'local issues') was a voluntary decision — not a forced one."

"Plaintiff does not allege what injury it would have suffered if it had instead decided to continue spending the same amount of time and money on 'local issues affecting parents like school policies and topics like critical race theory,'" Drozd stated.

Wiener touted the legal victory in a statement.

"Transgender people just want to live their lives authentically and in peace, and California is defending their right to do so," Wiener stated. "This ruling shows once again that trans people are living authentically in California without any of the negative impacts on those around them of which right-wing zealots accuse them. California's leadership is united in defending transgender people, and LGBTQ people generally, from the vicious attacks they face in other states.

"I thank Attorney General Bonta and his team for their incredible work securing this major civil rights victory," Wiener added.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening Bonta called the judge's ruling "a major win for transgender children and their families in California and across the U.S. amidst a growing assault on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. My office stands ready to defend SB 107 to ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals obtain the care that empowers them to lead healthier, happier lives."

The complaint

The complaint listed three causes of action, the first being violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"SB 107 violates the Due Process Clause by stripping parents of their fundamental right to direct the upbringing and care for of [sic] their child, including accessing their child's medical records as it relates to 'gender-affirming care' or 'gender-affirming mental health care,'" the complaint states.

The second cause of action was violation of freedom of association in the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

"The enforcement of SB 107 is the direct and legal cause of the deprivation of parents' constitutionally protected rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the association, companionship, and society of parent and child," the complaint states.

The third cause of action was violation of the full faith and credit clause of Article IV of the Constitution, which the suit mistakenly states is found in the Fourth Amendment.

"The Full Faith and Credit Clause demands that state court judgments be accorded full effect in the courts of other states and precludes states from adopting any 'policy of hostility' toward the public acts of another state," the complaint states. "SB 107 violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause because the bill was passed as a direct 'policy of hostility' towards statutes passed in other states, which restrict or criminalize gender-transition procedures for minors."

The plaintiff was represented by the nonprofit firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom. Attorney Bethany Onishenko stated, "This decision is but a small setback."

"The judge did not rule on the merits of SB 107. We remain committed to fighting this outrageous bill and believe that when SB 107 is decided on the merits, we will prevail," she stated.

Updated, 4/10/24: This article has been updated with comments from the plaintiff's attroney.

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!