Building on SF's LGBT legacy in Sacramento

  • by David Chiu
  • Wednesday December 10, 2014
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After being sworn in last week as the new representative for California's 17th Assembly District, I was invited by the Bay Area Reporter to share thoughts about my upcoming freshman session in the Assembly. I want to thank the B.A.R. for the opportunity, and hope this is the first of many chances to speak about our work in Sacramento.

It is deeply humbling to serve in the Assembly seat with an illustrious history of LGBT representation that has included Carole Migden, Mark Leno, and Tom Ammiano. I also appreciate the strong advocacy of Supervisor David Campos, and hope to work together with him in the future. As a straight ally who has worked on LGBT civil rights issues throughout my career, I recognize the responsibility of representing a district that includes historic LGBT neighborhoods such as the Castro, Polk Gulch and Bernal Heights. I take that responsibility very seriously, and will make sure our shared San Francisco values continue to have a strong champion in Sacramento.

On my first day of Assembly orientation, I found myself in a conversation with a colleague from a conservative district. He was very cordial, and then mentioned that his constituents strongly opposed the anti-bullying protections for transgender students established by Ammiano, my predecessor. As I told him that I'd defend those protections to the hilt and fight for new ones, like Dorothy, I realized that I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

While California has seen wonderful victories on some of the major LGBT civil rights fights of our day, we still have a long way to go to achieving full equality for all. In my first week, I have had conversations with staff from the California Legislative LGBT Caucus and Equality California about important LGBT issues being considered for the 2015-16 legislative session, and I look forward to working with community stakeholders to champion them. I am also asking the LGBTs for Chiu Committee that advised me during our campaign to transition to an advisory council so we can appropriately address the needs of our diverse LGBT communities.

As I pledged during my campaign, affordable housing in San Francisco and throughout California is my top priority as a state legislator. Our affordability challenges disproportionately impact our LGBT residents �" as many as 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and LGBT seniors are more than twice as likely to live in poverty. I have spoken with Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) about our shared commitment to addressing this issue, and introduced my first bill as an Assemblymember in this area.

AB 35 would authorize a $40 million annual state tax credit to rehabilitate and preserve rental housing for our state's lowest-income residents who live in single-room occupancy (SRO) units and other similar housing. Too many SROs in San Francisco have fallen into disrepair and have no source of rehabilitation financing. These units house our most vulnerable residents, including LGBT youth and seniors, and our state must do more to ensure they are safe and accessible.

In addition to housing affordability, I am eager to support the broad range of LGBT policy issues being discussed in Sacramento. These include strengthening enforcement of hate crime statutes to guarantee safety for all diverse communities, ensuring greater access to veterans benefits for service members discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and addressing the needs of LGBT seniors. I will also vigorously advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, to sustain programs such as the California AIDS Drug Assistance Program, Medi-Cal, and the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, and to work with the advocacy community in creating a statewide Getting to Zero plan, following our city's progress in this area.

We must also address the need for more inclusive data collection practices that take into account sexual orientation and gender identity. At this time, there are real gaps in vital services, negatively impacting LGBT individuals across the state �" for example, with regards to health care, social services and housing �" but we lack the information necessary to address these disparities. In recent sessions, the Legislature has tried to take on this important issue, but efforts thus far have been unsuccessful. I'm in discussions with advocates about how we can finally get this done in 2015.

For years, San Francisco's representatives in Sacramento have led the way on issues of importance for our state's LGBT communities. I am committed to making sure these matters remain front and center in our agenda during the coming legislative session. Our Assembly District includes some of our state's most diverse and progressive neighborhoods, and I plan to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors in ensuring that all of our communities have a voice in the Capitol. I look forward to hearing from all of you as we get to work on the issues that matter most to San Franciscans.