Editorial: Newsom exhibits hypocrisy with trans veto

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday September 27, 2023
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Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Bill Wilson
Governor Gavin Newsom. Photo: Bill Wilson

There was no reason for Governor Gavin Newsom to veto a bill that would have urged state judges to take into account parental support for their transgender kids. After all, Newsom spent some time during a recent Zoom session with supporters of his call for a constitutional convention on gun safety railing against federal judges who have overturned various gun control measures. So why is he suddenly concerned about judicial power when it comes to trans kids? That question is an easy one to answer: because he has his sights on higher office, as in the Oval Office.

Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City) had crafted a piece of legislation that would have actually benefited trans kids, particularly those of parents involved in custody battles. Assembly Bill 957, the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act, would have required courts "to strongly consider" if a parent is affirming of their child's gender identity or gender expression, and if they consent to legally changing the child's name and gender marker to mirror their preferred gender when considering the legal guardianship of the minor because their parents are divorcing. This would have been a game-changer for trans and gender-diverse kids. And it's something that Wilson, the mother of an adult trans child, knows about. Yet Newsom in his veto message stated that the legislation went too far.

"I appreciate the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill. I share a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians, an effort that has guided my decisions through many decades in public office," wrote Newsom. "That said, I urge caution when the Executive and Legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate — in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic — legal standards for the Judicial branch to apply. Other-minded elected officials, in California and other states, could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities."

What? This is the same governor who two weeks ago was deeply critical of actions judges have taken when it comes to overturning gun safety laws, both in California and elsewhere — even as he acknowledged that his late father, William Newsom III, was a judge himself, having served on the San Francisco Superior Court and the state Court of Appeal. He pointed to federal judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who threw out California's first-in-the-nation law banning marketing guns to youth. He criticized Judge Ryan Nelson, also on the 9th Circuit, who wrote the 2-1 decision tossing out an age requirement that people have to be 21 years old to buy guns. And he called out U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego who in 2021 overturned California's 32-year-old assault weapons ban.

"Judge Nelson, a Trump appointee, said an 18-year-old can buy a weapon of war," Newsom said.

And in recent months Newsom has publicly attacked judges for their rulings hamstringing local officials and state agencies from being able to clear out homeless encampments on city sidewalks and state property.

So to see Newsom now standing up for judges in custody cases is hypocritical to us. Family court judges often take many factors into account when deciding custody and visitation issues — and paramount in that should be the best interests of the child. Another of those considerations should be how supportive parents are of their TGI children. If a parent is hostile to their child's gender identity, that's going to create a much more difficult journey for the young person. And research has shown that trans kids who have supportive parents do much better in life. As it is now, trans kids face higher rates of depression and suicide. Just last year, Newsom signed a bill making California a place of refuge for trans kids and their families escaping draconian laws in states like Florida. His veto of Wilson's bill now makes that commitment hollow.

Newsom's veto of Wilson's bill also doesn't make sense since he had signed a bill that involves foster youth. Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) authored Senate Bill 407, which directs the state's Department of Social Services to amend the foster care vetting process to ensure LGBTQ foster youth, who account for more than 30% of all youth in the foster care system, are not placed in hostile foster homes.

Per the legislation, foster families must demonstrate "an ability and willingness to meet the needs of the child regardless of the child's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and that, should difficulties around these issues arise, a willingness to obtain resources offered by the county or foster family agency or other available resources to meet those needs."

That sounds a lot like what Wilson's bill would have done for children in custody cases. Newsom obviously has no problem directing a state agency to make sure foster youth are placed in supportive homes, yet he draws the line at judges determining parents are supportive of their children. Go figure.

Wilson has committed to continue her fight for trans youth. We hope she brings back a similar version of AB 957 next year and that Newsom has the wherewithal to sign it.

In the meantime, let's remember that Newsom is responsible for appointing the majority of state judges; voters first elect a much smaller number, though all judges go before voters at some point. To that end, Newsom and his judicial appointments secretary, Luis Céspedes, should ensure that prospective applicants for judgeships — LGBTQ and straight alike — are supportive of trans and gender-diverse kids. It's a topic that judicial applicants should be asked about during their vetting process. Newsom also should appoint trans people to his Judicial Selection Advisory Committees, which are grouped by region; currently there are no known trans persons on those bodies.

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