California lawmakers continue to press for progressive values, defiant of the Trump administration’s conscious disruption of democracy and rollback of common decency. And now LGBT legislators are leaping ahead of the traditional trajectory of civil rights movements and presenting a resolution in which the state of California formally apologizes for past discrimination and discriminatory laws that oppressed and persecuted the LGBT community.
On April 5, the Assembly passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution 172 authored by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, and co-authored by all members of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.
“We just passed this Apology Resolution on the Assembly Floor and it’s the first of its kind in the nation,” Low told the Los Angeles Blade. “This is a recognition of the discrimination that has occurred against the LGBT community so we can recognize the wrongs of the past and make sure we continue to move forward addressing many of the discriminatory practices that currently exist and lead with love.”
The Apology Resolution is supported by Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. But Low said he is talking to other communities for support, as well, such as the Japanese, Chinese and African American communities that have previously received apologies for governmental discrimination.
“We did an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Alien Land Law. We did apologies for the transgressions toward women and the African American community. We will continue to do so. The next step is the State Senate—date to be determined.”
Apologies are a good start—a recognition that legalized discrimination has lasting traumatic consequences. In 2008, Congress apologized to the African American community for slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow laws—but no reparations were given and institutionalized racism persists. In fact, many argued with CBS News’ decision to broadcast images of lynching on the April 8 “60 Minutes” where Oprah Winfrey toured “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice” in Montgomery, Alabama, the state where 361 documented lynchings occurred.
The Equal Justice Initiative found evidence of more than 4,000 lynchings in states throughout the country in the 70 years following the South’s surrender ending the Civil War.
“[T]he murderous acts were a way for whites to maintain political control over African Americans, who were supposed to get the right to vote after the Civil War,” attorney and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson said in a CBS News press release.
“Lynching was especially effective because it would allow the whole community to know that we did this to this person … a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights … anything that complicates white supremacy… and political power, we will kill you,” Stevenson said.
In 1988, after a decade of pressure from the Japanese-American community, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that not only issued an apology to the more than 100,000 Japanese incarcerated in internment camps during World War II but paid $20,000 in compensation to survivors. But as out gay internment survivor George Takei reminds people, an apology and compensation do not revoke the painful memories.
“I was 7 years old when we were transferred to another camp for ‘disloyals.’ My mother and father’s only crime was refusing, out of principle, to sign a loyalty pledge promulgated by the government. The authorities had already taken my parents’ home on Garnet Street in Los Angeles, their once thriving dry cleaning business, and finally their liberty. Now they wanted them to grovel; this was an indignity too far,” Takei wrote in a New York Times op-ed comparing the Japanese internment to Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.
Criminal and other laws against LGBT people seemed sanction by society, with the psychological and religious communities calling homosexuality a “perversion” and “evil. And while the LGBT community has won many civil rights victories, murders of trans women of color continue unabated, the trauma of stigma still prevents LGBT people from coming out and getting tested for HIV and there are still efforts to legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Perhaps an historic apology from the California will raise awareness that the state’s representatives recognize the harm done in in the state’s name.
Examples of California’s anti-LGBT laws include:
Throughout California’s early history, local indecency statutes permitted police to harass and sometimes arrest people who were considered deviant or gender-bending.
In 1909, state law allowed for the sterilization of convicted and imprisoned sex offenders for being “moral or sexual perverts” including those offenders committed for sodomy and oral sex acts.
In 1939, California enacted a “sexual psychopath” law, which was used to commit numerous LGBT people for involuntary psychiatric incarceration and gruesome medical treatments.
In 1947, California enacted a statewide registration for sex offenders, exposing LGBT people convicted of sex offenses to public shaming and harassment.
In 1977, California law defined marriage as “between one man and one woman.” In March of 2000, Proposition 22 was enacted by California voters to prevent marriage between same-sex couples. Although Prop. 22 was struck down by the California Supreme Court in 2008, the ruling was superseded when Prop. 8 reinstated the ban that same year. Same-sex marriages became legal in 2013.
Here’s the lead of the Legislative Counsel’s office summary: