August 29, 2018 at 11:21 am PST | by Christopher Kane
LGBT advocates optimistic about remaining bills in California Legislature

Assemblymembers Richard Bloom, Tony Thurmond, and Evan Low, all of whom have LGBT-related bills this session. Photo screen grab from EQCA/LGBT Legislative Caucus press conference in Sacramento Aug. 20, 2018.

With days remaining before the conclusion of California’s legislative session on Friday, August 31, the fate of at least 12 measures that concern the state’s LGBT community remains uncertain. Advocates are hopeful, though, that a string of recent victories will signal favorable outcomes. 

Equality California, along with other national and statewide LGBT groups, is encouraged by the success of several of the bills the organization has sponsored, two of which were signed into law over the past few months. At the same time, however, the well-funded opposition from the Christian Right, which enjoys close ties with the Trump-Pence Administration, has marshaled considerable resources in hopes of defeating pro-LGBT measures in California.  

Among the most-watched pieces of legislation under consideration is California Assembly Bill 2943 by Assemblymember and Legislative LGBT Caucus Chair Evan Low, which would render the sale or advertisement of sexual orientation change efforts—“conversion therapy”—illegal under the state’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act. Following a 5-2 committee vote in favor, the bill awaits a concurrence vote on the Assembly Floor to rule on amendments from the Senate.

Opponents pooled more than 40 people to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to chronicle their “success” in overcoming same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria with religious counseling. While these efforts ultimately failed to win over the committee, Associated Press reporter Sophia Bollag said during an interview with Pastor Ken Williams, “This is the longest ever public comment hearing I’ve ever seen in the Capitol. It wasn’t a small minority of people who came here today—they came from across the state.” 

Conservative religious groups like the James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) dedicated considerable resources to defeating AB 2943, using arguments concerning “parental rights” and “religious freedom” to defend “conversion therapy.” In a July 26 panel discussion held in Washington, DC, representatives from powerful and politically conservative organizations—including JFDI and ADF—warned against the implications of California’s proposed ban on “conversion therapy” and the bill’s contextualization of the practice as consumer fraud. Speaking about Monday’s White House dinner with conservative, anti-LGBT evangelical leaders, President Trump seemed to echo the message, asserting the days of government undermining religious liberty are over.  

Meanwhile, LGBT groups have cheered the passage of several important bills that have perhaps earned less attention. On Tuesday, EQCA and Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth, among other groups, celebrated the success of what marks the first legislation in the United States that protects the rights of intersex people. Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 110 will require medical practitioners in California to delay cosmetic genital surgeries on intersex children until they reach an age at which they are capable of making an informed decision.

Also passed this week was another bill that will affect LGBT youth in California, AB 2291 by Assemblymember David Chiu, which requires public schools to provide yearly training on bullying and cyberbullying in modules the California Department of Education must publish online. The legislation is sponsored by EQCA, the Advancement Project California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California, and Council on American-Islamic Relations, California.

Pending administrative proceedings, both bills will await signatures from California Gov. Jerry Brown.

On August 24, Brown signed AB 2719 by Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, legislation that recognizes the needs of LGBT older adults and helps to ensure their access to services and support. That bill was sponsored by EQCA and Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). And on June 13, EQCA was joined by disability rights advocates and groups, including United Cerebral Palsy and The Arc, in celebrating Brown’s signing of AB 1985 by Assemblymember Phil Ting, which offers support to local law enforcement agencies to strengthen existing policies on the prevention and prosecution of hate crimes.  

LGBT folks can encounter harassment, discrimination, and violence at the hands of police and within the criminal justice system. Two more bills awaiting consideration on the Senate floor (AB 2504) and in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (SB 990) would strengthen training of law enforcement officers in LGBT cultural competency and require staff at jails and prisons to refer to transgender detainees by their preferred gender pronouns. 

Five other bills that would broaden rights and protections for LGBT Californians are also expected to be decided by concurrence votes on the Assembly Floor this week. 

Among these is AB 2153 by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, which would equip California schools with resources and training to support LGBT students. EQCA considers this legislation an important step toward redressing the disparities in health and wellbeing encountered by LGBT youth. AB 2153 was passed by the Senate with broad bipartisan support, earning eight Republican votes

“Our public-school teachers and staff,” EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur explained, “are on the front lines of ensuring that all California children—regardless of background, zip code, sexual orientation or gender identity—have a shot at the American Dream.”  

The passage on Monday of AB 2639 by Assemblymembers Marc Berman & Patrick O’Donnell, a bill that requires schools to review and update (as necessary) suicide prevention policies at least every five years, represents another victory for LGBT youth advocates. A previous version of the legislation was included in California’s budget and signed by Brown on June 27.

Another measure aimed at supporting LGBT youth, Foster Care: Gender Affirming Health Care and Mental Health Care, AB 2119 by Assemblymember Todd Gloria,
would require child welfare agencies to ensure access to clinicians who offer gender-affirming treatment for transgender and gender non-conforming youth. The bill has earned broad support from LGBT groups and is sponsored by EQCA, the ACLU of California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Lambda Legal, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It is awaiting a concurrence vote on the Assembly Floor.

A bill proposed by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, AB 1247, represents another measure intended to promote social services that affirm and protect California’s LGBT community. The legislation would offer training in LGBT cultural competency to private professional fiduciaries, who help older adults and people with disabilities by providing services in financial management, as well as housing and medical assistance. This bill is awaiting a concurrence vote on the Assembly Floor.

As California’s housing affordability crisis worsens, growing numbers of people in the state are experiencing homelessness—a problem that disproportionately affects LGBT folks, especially youth. LGBT people in California who experience homelessness or housing insecurity have often left the places in which they were born to find greater acceptance in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which can present hurdles if they do not have and must replace their vital records—like birth certificates—that are required to apply for government benefits, like housing assistance.

Furthermore, homeless LGBT young people in California in many cases have experienced family rejection and cannot safely return to their former homes to collect their identifying documents. Increasing Access to Identification for People Experiencing Homelessness, AB 2490 by Assemblymember David Chiu, would remove the fees that often preclude homeless Californians from requesting vital records—a measure that would improve access, too, for vulnerable LGBT communities. This bill is awaiting a concurrence vote in the Assembly.

Another bill, Establishing Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness, SB 918 by Senator Scott Wiener and Assemblymember Blanca Rubio,
which awaits consideration on the Assembly Floor, would increase, in each county, the number of available programs related to youth homelessness and housing affordability. It would also require these programs to be inclusive and culturally competent to address these issues within LGBT communities.

A concurrence vote this week may also decide the fate of AB 2663, Property Tax Equity for Same-Sex Partners – a bill sponsored by out Los Angeles County Assessor Jeff Prang and carried in the Assembly by Assemblymember Laura Friedman and presented on the Senate Floor by Republican Scott Wilk. The bill addresses another housing-related issue that affects some LGBT people in California—in this case, an unfair disparity that concerns property taxes.

“For too long,” Zbur explains, “some registered domestic partners in California have unfairly paid more in property taxes due to the death of a partner.” This legislation would provide retroactive relief for those folks, helping to ensure they can continue to afford their homes. 

 Also awaiting consideration on the Senate Floor is legislation concerning family law— LGBTQ Family Law Modernization Act of 2018, AB 2684 by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, which updates the code to provide equal legal protections for LGBT parents and their children. 

The legislative session was rounded out with two measures that concern LGBT-related observances. On August 23, the passage of ACR 258 established August 16 as PrEP and PEP Awareness Day in California—which supports efforts by public health officials to raise awareness about the availability of antiretroviral medications that can reduce the risk of HIV infection. And SCR 137, passed on May 29, designates the month of May as National Foster Care Month, an observance that recognizes the role of LGBT parents in the foster care system. 

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