Political Notebook: Legislative candidates vow to strengthen CA being a trans refuge

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 3, 2024
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State Senate candidates Christopher Cabaldon, left, Kathryn Lybarger, and Jovanka Beckles, were among several legislative candidates who discussed policies that would help trans kids and their families. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns
State Senate candidates Christopher Cabaldon, left, Kathryn Lybarger, and Jovanka Beckles, were among several legislative candidates who discussed policies that would help trans kids and their families. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns

California lawmakers in 2022 declared the Golden State to be a refuge for transgender kids and their parents fleeing transphobic laws in their home states. It was in reaction to lawmakers in those states adopting policies that threatened parents who allow their children to receive gender-affirming care with jail or having their kids be taken from them.

The bill authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) focused on ensuring California officials didn't assist in such prosecutions of parents with trans kids. It did not have provisions for what services to provide to any families that seek safe haven in the state.

Two bills adopted in 2023 that took effect January 1 added several safeguards for individuals coming to California for gender-affirming care or reproductive services including abortions. Assembly Bill 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) mandates companies overseeing electronic medical records to protect the privacy of people traveling to the state for such sensitive health services.

Senate Bill 345 authored by state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) protects providers and people from enforcement action in California of other states' laws that criminalize or limit reproductive and gender-affirming health care services.

As the list of states adopting laws targeting trans youth and their parents is expected to grow in 2024, the Bay Area Reporter asked candidates running in several competitive Bay Area state legislative races what services and programs they believe California should be providing such families who relocate here. Their answers to the query on the paper's endorsement questionnaire ran the gamut from detailed responses to more succinct suggestions.

Providing one of the more lengthy replies was gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon. He is seeking to succeed state Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), who is termed out this year from his District 3 Senate seat that sprawls across a number of counties, from Contra Costa and Sonoma to Yolo and Sacramento.

"As an LGBTQ+ person who lived most of my life with the fear of being outed and the very real threat of not just losing my job and my apartment but also social ostracism and violence, I know the horrific dangers that trans kids face," noted Cabaldon, who served as chief of staff for lesbian former state lawmaker Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) during her first term in the Assembly in the late 1990s. "The forced outing policies the far right is peddling in school districts across the state are not only abhorrent but also dangerous. The culture war they are trying to start could get children killed, plain and simple."

At the moment, Attorney General Rob Bonta is suing one Southern California school district in San Bernardino County that adopted such an outing policy. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Governor Gavin Newsom have also used their bully pulpits to lambaste the various school districts around the state that have adopted similar policies.

"Trans students have a right to exist, and to exist free from fear, intimidation, violence, ridicule or bullying — especially from adults," Cabaldon, who for years has worked as a higher education consultant, told the B.A.R. "Furthermore, forcing teachers to out their students raises serious ethical and labor concerns. I am wholly opposed to this."

A legislative attempt to ban school outing policies was put on hold last fall by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) amid the legal fight. He is not expected to reintroduce it while the case makes its way through the courts this year and an anti-trans parental group tries to qualify by late May a measure supportive of the outing policy for the fall ballot.

As for Cabaldon, he said the state should do everything in its power to ensure trans students are not forced out of the closet against their wishes.

"When I came out publicly in 2006, I was one of only a few openly gay mayors in the country. Even as an adult, this was not easy and to see these proposals being so vehemently advanced is shocking and disappointing," he wrote in his response. "California cannot no longer rely upon school districts to protect its students, as too many are demonizing trans kids and politicizing their existence. The state should deploy its own agencies and mobilize county programs to make real the refuge and state haven. And it should aggressively intervene in districts that are preying upon trans kids and their families."

In the race to succeed termed-out Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) in his Assembly District 19 seat that covers the city's western neighborhoods, District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani told the B.A.R. she opposes any actions that would result in transgender people being blocked from accessing public or private facilities consistent with their gender identity.

"I support efforts for transgender people to obtain government-issued documents that accurately reflect their gender identity," she told the B.A.R. "I also support policies to protect incarcerated transgender people and their right to be housed consistent with their gender identity."

A straight ally, the issue of LGBTQ rights has long been personal for Stefani, who is the oldest of six siblings, one of whom is a gay woman and another a trans man. In addition to protecting trans individuals' access to medical care, Stefani said more state resources need to be allocated to trans programs and services.

"I support policies to improve access to gender-affirming care and other necessary healthcare services for transgender people," Stefani told the B.A.R. "I believe we should increase state funding for organizations that serve transgender and gender-nonconforming people, to ensure that they have access to necessary care, housing and financial assistance."

Her opponent in the race, educator David Lee, also told the B.A.R. that more state funding is needed to expand and fund services for trans individuals and their families.

"California, and especially San Francisco, has always been a place for LGBTQ folks to find the services and support they need. As LGBTQ rights are being weakened across the country, California should stand up as a leader against these infringements," responded Lee, who has taught at San Francisco State University and Laney College, part of the East Bay's Peralta Community College District. "Organizations like the SF AIDS Foundation provide a host of services, ranging from health examinations to help accessing social services to hosting art exhibits. I believe that the state should expand upon these types of wraparound programs that not only take care of health needs but also social and cultural needs."

Lee added, "There should be robust funding from the state that supports trans kids and their families with access to housing, social services, and community supports."

Providing more concise responses was a trio of candidates running to succeed the termed out Skinner in the East Bay's 7th Senate District that spans western Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Queer former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles, now an elected member of the board that oversees the AC Transit public transportation agency, focused her response on addressing the health needs of trans individuals.

"I would champion and fight hard to fund programs that focus on trans-inclusive health care, mental health support, educational resources, and anti-discrimination initiatives to ensure the well-being and equal opportunities for trans kids and their families," replied Beckles, a Black and Latina immigrant who recently retired after a career as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County.

Also responding to the question with a health-centered focus was California Labor Federation President Kathryn Lybarger, who identifies as both lesbian and queer.

"Universal health care and stable, affordable housing are essential to ensuring the wellbeing and stability of all families, including trans people and their families," replied Lybarger, who lives with her wife, Nina Ackerberg, in Berkeley.

Lastly, Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, a straight ally, told the B.A.R. what is needed to assist those seeking trans refuge in California are "workshops for teachers and school administrators on supporting trans families and the challenges/realities of being a trans minor."

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, January 8.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko.

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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