LGBTQ bills advance in Sacramento

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 10, 2024
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Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang speaks April 8 on the steps of the state Capitol where he was joined by lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates. Photo: Courtesy Assemblymember Chris Ward's X
Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang speaks April 8 on the steps of the state Capitol where he was joined by lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates. Photo: Courtesy Assemblymember Chris Ward's X

With state legislators back from their spring recess, various LGBTQ bills are advancing out of oversight committees in the California Legislature. As in previous years, most of the bills are related to health issues or protecting transgender individuals who have come under increasing attack by Republican leaders and conservative groups.

One bill attracting significant interest from LGBTQ health advocates is Senate Bill 957 authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). As the Bay Area Reporter first reported in January, the legislation aims to ensure that state health officials are meeting their requirements to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity demographics, known as SOGI data for short.

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. If enacted, SB 957 would require that state health officials implement all of the recommendations in the audit.

Having made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, the bill earlier this month passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a similar 9-2 vote. It is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it could be taken up on April 15.

"We can't fix a problem we can't measure, and with SB 957 we can take a critical step to delivering true health equity," stated Wiener. "California must begin collecting data to understand the unique health challenges faced by LGBTQ people."

Statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, the California LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation are all sponsoring the bill. The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus is a co-sponsor and has made it one of its priority bills this year.

"Opposition to the bill was also present at both hearings, where hateful and dehumanizing misinformation about LGBTQ people and our lives were shared. The increase in anti-LGBTQ sentiments across the state and country has been heightened even further during this election cycle," noted Isaias Guzman, the LGBTQ health network's manager of programs, in a recent email seeking other agencies' support for it.

Numerous organizations have already signed onto a letter requesting legislators adopt the bill. A copy of it can be seen online.

"Failing to collect accurate SOGI data erases the LGBTQ+ community in public health policy and undermines the state's efforts to ensure that all Californians receive the care and services they need. This oversight can have significant consequences for LGBTQ+ people, including increased stigma, misinformation, ineffective service provision, and a delayed response to public health emergencies like COVID-19 and the recent mpox outbreak," notes the letter.

Assemblymember Alex Lee. Photo: Courtesy Assemblymember Lee's office  

Ensuring such issues impacting the Golden State's LGBTQ community, which in 2022 the Public Policy Institute of California noted was estimated to be at least 2.7 million LGBT people over the age of 18 or roughly 9% of the state's adults, are a legislative priority for state leaders is behind the push for creating a Statewide LGBTQ+ Commission. It is the focus of Assembly Bill 3031 by Assemblymembers Alex Lee (D-San Jose), who is bisexual, and Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who is gay.

Their bill would establish a nine-person statewide advisory body. Five would be gubernatorial appointees, two would be selected by the Assembly's speaker, and the remaining pair would be named by the Senate Committee on Rules.

"It's critical that the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ community members are recognized by our government," stated Lee. "The commission will play an important role in informing policy and programs for the LGBTQ+ community. Creating the LGBTQ+ commission is another important step forward to ensure that everyone can live authentically and inclusively in our community."

AB 3031 had its first hearing Tuesday before the Assembly Committee on Human Services where it was approved 5-0 with two abstentions. Among its backers is the South Bay LGBTQ political group BAYMEC, short for the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee.

"Having a commission that addresses disparities facing California's queer community and works to elevate our community's unique experiences, voices, and concerns, is invaluable," stated BAYMEC President Drew Lloyd. "BAYMEC enthusiastically endorses the creation of this Commission and looks forward to working with all stakeholders and our community to create a safe and unique space that leads to a better California for All."

Another priority bill of the affinity group for out lawmakers is SB 959 by lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) that would create a resources website for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) people and their families. It is aimed at combating misinformation and providing accurate information about access to trans-inclusive health care, existing legal protections for patients and health care providers, and other available support services for TGI individuals.

It passed out of the Senate Health Committee April 3 on an 8-1 vote with two abstentions and awaits a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

"This bill will ensure that as TGI people and their families seek access to affirming health care and support, California provides comprehensive information and resources about access to trans-inclusive health care in the state," noted Menjivar in her comments for an analysis of the bill.

With several minor earthquakes hitting the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions in recent months, along with devastating quakes that have struck Taiwan and Japan this year, disaster preparedness has once again been in the news.

State Senator Steve Padilla. Photo: Courtesy Senator Padilla's office  

Making sure the needs of LGBTQ people are taken into consideration when planning how to respond to earthquakes and other natural disasters is the focus of SB 990 by gay state Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego). His bill, which has support from gay Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D), would require the governor's Office of Emergency Services, known as Cal-OES, to consult with LGBTQ+ organizations and community advocates on updating the State Emergency Plan by January 1, 2027, so it includes policies and best practices for how local governments and nongovernmental entities can equitably serve LGBTQ+ communities during an emergency or natural disaster.

"We've got to root out discrimination in our policies and our society," stated Padilla. "The values we have fought so hard to uphold cannot disappear at the first sight of trouble. In the aftermath of a disaster, we want everyone to feel assured they are going to get the care they need to get themselves and their families back on their feet and into their homes."

The bill is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization. It comes after UC Irvine released a report detailing how LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly LGBTQ+ people of color, are displaced at nearly double the rate of cisgender and heterosexual individuals because of natural disasters.

For instance, the study noted how fires displace LGBTQ+ people at twice the rate (30%) than non-LGBTQ+ people (14%) in California. It brought awareness to the fact that despite their best efforts to do so, state and federal agencies do not have clear strategies integrating LGBTQ+ people into their disaster preparedness, planning, and emergency response.

"While California has traditionally been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ civil rights, it has lagged in ensuring those rights are enforced during disasters," stated UC Irvine assistant professor and Andrew Carnegie Fellow Michael Méndez, Ph.D., who authored the study. "This legislation is an important step in ensuring that the state provides guidance to local governments and mutual aid providers on safeguarding LGBTQ+ before, during, and after disasters."

AB 1899 by lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) would require jury questionnaires used by state courts to ask prospective jurors about their preferred names and pronouns. It would also require that questions about jurors' familial or personal relationships are phrased in a gender-neutral manner.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed it in March on a 10-2 vote. It is now pending before the Appropriations Committee.

"A summons for jury duty is one of the main ways that most individuals in California interact with our state courts. Unfortunately, there is no existing requirement that the written juror questionnaires used by superior courts during the voir dire process use terms that are inclusive of our LGBTQ+ community, especially nonbinary or transgender individuals," noted Cervantes in her comments for the bill's analysis. "Indeed, there are examples of juror questionnaires used by courts that ask prospective jurors about their gender in a non-inclusive manner or use gendered salutations. This sadly serves to potentially alienate members of our LGBTQ+ community even as they fulfill one of their obligations as citizens of the United States."

Another bill related to legal matters is AB 1979 authored by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) that is known as the Doxing Victims Recourse Act. Doxing is the release of an individual's private information online, such as their home address and phone number.

It is a tool utilized by online trolls against their critics, with transgender individuals often being doxed when they speak out against transphobic legislation or policies.

The bill would allow a victim to pursue civil action to receive restitution for the harms endured as a result of being doxed. It passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee April 2 on a 10-1 vote and awaits a hearing at appropriations.

Under SB 1491 by lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) the California Student Aid Commission would have to provide, beginning with the 2026—27 school year, written notice to college students who receive state financial aid if their postsecondary educational institution has an exemption from either the Equity in Higher Education Act or Title IX on file with the commission.

Often religious-based colleges seek exemptions in order not to comply with providing protections covered by the rules to LGBTQ students on their campuses. The state commission currently is only required to post which schools have exemptions online.

For state-run colleges and universities, they would need to designate a confidential point of contact on their campuses for lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and two-spirit faculty, staff, and students. It also would task the Legislative Analyst's Office with auditing the state's community colleges and four-year colleges and universities with respect to the quality of life for their LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff.

SB 1491 passed out of the Senate Education Committee April 3 on a 4-2 vote with one abstention. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear it April 16.

"Institutions of Higher Education need to be able to provide and better protect the rights of LGBTQ+ students and faculty. This bill compels the transparency of private colleges by written notice and gives public colleges a more active role in providing resources to LGBTQ+ students," stated Eggman, who wrote the bill in response to the findings of a report released this year by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

Health bills cover myriad concerns
Gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood/Santa Monica) has championed LGBTQ health issues during his freshman term. He has authored a trio of bills this year aimed at improving the health outcomes for LGBTQ Californians.

His AB 2258 would codify long-standing federal guidance that health plans and insurers must cover services that are integral to providing recommended preventive care — including anesthesia and polyp removal during a colonoscopy; placement, management, and removal of long-acting reversible contraceptives. They would also need to provide without cost sharing ancillary and support services for PrEP, the HIV prevention medication, including screening for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Newsom vetoed a similar bill by Zbur last year, as the B.A.R. reported at the time. (

Various medical boards in the state would need to expedite medical licensure for gender-affirming care under Zbur's AB 2442. And his AB 2477 would update state law to clarify that young adults can accumulate cash savings while in foster care.

AB 2258 awaits a hearing before the Assembly Health Committee, while AB 2442 passed out of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee Tuesday on a 13-1 vote with four abstentions. AB 2477 passed out of the Assembly Human Services Committee 7-2 on April 2 and is now before the appropriations committee.

"LGBTQ+ Californians continue to experience significant disparities in measures of health and wellbeing compared to the general public," noted Zbur. "These bills ... all help close those disparity gaps by increasing healthcare access for transgender and gender non-conforming people, enhancing consumer protections for preventative care for HIV and other conditions, and helping former foster youth obtain the support services they need to live independently to reduce the risk of homelessness. They are about lifting up and supporting our most vulnerable."

Eggman's SB 1333 would require state and local health department employees and contractors to annually sign confidentiality agreements prior to accessing confidential HIV-related public health records. Currently, they just sign it once then the state or local health department is to yearly review the agreements.

The bill also authorizes disclosure to other local, state, or federal public health agencies or to medical researchers when confidential information is necessary for the coordination of, linkage to, or reengagement in care for the person. It passed out of the Senate Health Committee in March and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-0 for it Tuesday.

Eggman authored it to address issues that came up during the recent mpox outbreak, where state confidentiality laws prevented health providers from noting in patient records if someone who contracted mpox was also HIV-positive, thus potentially impacting the care the person needed. It has also been an issue with people living with HIV who have other comorbidities, such as other STIs or tuberculosis.

"This bill will improve California's ability to ensure timely, quality health care for people with HIV and other reportable communicable diseases," stated Eggman.

AB 3161 by Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) requires hospitals to analyze patient safety events by sociodemographic factors, like race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, and disability status. Known as the Equity in Health Care Act: Ensuring Safety and Accountability, the bill aims to bring to light the disparities in health that communities of color and LGBTQ communities are facing.

Additionally, AB 3161 requires hospital safety plans to include a process for addressing racism and discrimination and its impacts on patient health and safety. It passed out of the Assembly Health Committee Tuesday on a 15-0 vote with one abstention.

After stalling out last year in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it remains, AB 518 has been revived by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). It would extend paid family leave to cover a worker's chosen family, the term LGBTQ people and others use for individuals they care for and rely on who are not their biological family or spouse.

State Senators Caroline Menjivar. Photo: Courtesy Sen. Menjivar  

Another bill pulled last year that has been brought back is Menjivar's SB 729 that would require large group health plans to provide coverage for fertility and infertility care, including IVF, and updating the definition of infertility to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ family planning experiences. It awaits action in the Assembly.

Housing bills
With housing stability tied to a person's health outcomes, Zbur's AB 2498 aims to prevent a wide range of individuals, from former foster youth, older adults, and adults with disabilities to people unemployed or who were recently incarcerated, from losing their housing. Known as the California Housing Security Act, the bill would provide rent subsidies to the various rent-burdened populations.

It awaits a hearing before the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. Passing out of that committee in March 7-0 was AB 2007, which would establish the Unicorn Homes Transitional Housing for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Program.

Authored by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner (D-Encinitas), Ward and Zbur are co-authors, along with gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris). If passed and funded by the Legislature, AB 2007 would establish a three-year pilot project expansion of the Unicorn Homes Transitional Housing for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Program in up to five selected counties.

It would train LGBTQ+ affirming households willing to host LGBTQ+ identifying youth experiencing homelessness due to being rejected by their family. It passed out of the Assembly Housing and Community Development 7-0 in March and is now before the Assembly Human Services Committee.

According to the bill analysis, its cost is currently unknown.

"The bill promotes housing stability and a positive support system that helps transition LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness to permanent housing either as independent adults, or by reuniting with their family," argued Boerner.

Newsom last year had vetoed Boerner's AB 589 that called for establishing such a housing program in Sacramento and San Diego counties due to fiscal concerns. With the state facing a budget deficit that could total $73 billion, AB 2007 likely could face the same fate if it makes it to the governor's desk.

Another bill Newsom vetoed last year over its estimated $4 million price tag to implement is now back before the Legislature. Menjivar's SB 954, known as the Youth Health Equity and Safety (YHES) Act, would expand public school students' access to condoms.

It passed out of the Senate Education Committee in March on a 5-2 vote and is now before the Senate Health Committee.

A bill that should sail through the Legislature this year is SB 1278 by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). It would enshrine December 1 in California as World AIDS Day, a day globally recognized in solidarity with people affected by HIV.

If SB 1278 is adopted, the state's governor would need to annually declare that date as World AIDS Day. The Senate Governmental Organization Committee will take up the bill on April 23.

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