January 4, 2019 at 2:35 pm PST | by Rick Zbur
New year, new pro-equality laws in California

Rick Zbur (Photo courtesy Equality California)

California once again adopted its own “New Year’s resolutions” this week, as hundreds of new state laws took effect at midnight on January 1 — including many that protect, empower and support members of the LGBTQ community and our allies. Equality California has been busy at work fighting in Sacramento, fighting to pass pro-equality legislation and sponsoring 11 of these new laws.

Transgender Equality

Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Senator Scott Wiener’s Gender Recognition Act of 2017 (SB 179) ensures transgender and nonbinary Californians have access to state-issued identification that accurately reflect their gender identity. The new law allows for a nonbinary gender marker on California birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, identity cards and gender-change court orders, and it also helps to streamline the process for changing the gender marker on state documents, removing unnecessarily complicated and costly barriers.

Assemblymember Todd Gloria’s (D-San Diego) first-in-the-nation Gender Health in Foster Care Act of 2018 (AB 2119) will now explicitly guarantee access to life-saving, gender-affirming health care for youth in foster care. LGBTQ youth, and transgender youth in particular, are overrepresented among California’s foster youth, and are too often deprived of such care.

Education

California teachers will soon have access to greater tools and training to prevent bullying and suicide — both of which disproportionately harm LGBTQ youth. Assemblymember David Chiu’s (D-San Francisco) AB 2291 now requires public schools to provide online training annually on preventing bullying and cyberbullying to teachers and school staff. And while school districts are already required — under a law that Equality California and the Trevor Project passed in 2016 — to provide teachers with suicide prevention training, AB 2639 by Assemblymembers Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) and Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) will now require districts to regularly review and update their policies.

Students at California charter schools will now be guaranteed access to comprehensive, inclusive sex education programs — including instruction on LGBTQ people and families — thanks to Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s (D-San Diego) AB 2601. This legislation expands the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016, which already applied to traditional district-run schools and was authored by Weber and co-sponsored by Equality California.

Unfortunately, Governor Brown’s veto of legislation authored by State Superintendent-elect Tony Thurmond and sponsored by Equality California means school districts won’t be required to provide teachers and school staff with the tools and comprehensive LGBTQ training they need to support LGBTQ students who are facing bullying at schools or lack of acceptance in their homes or communities. But Equality California will introduce — and pass — that bill again in 2019, and we look forward to working with Governor-elect Newsom to get that critical legislation signed into law.

Homelessness

Four out of ten young people experiencing homelessness in California’s major cities identify as LGBTQ. The Establishing Services for Youth Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2018 (SB 918), authored by Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), will now help provide resources for housing, services and supports for youth experiencing homelessness.

Many Californians experiencing homelessness live in counties that are not the county of their birth, and some may be unsure of their county of birth. LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness often travel to major California cities to find acceptance. Assemblymember Chiu’s AB 2490 eliminates fees charged to people experiencing homelessness seeking to obtain certified birth certificates directly from the state.

Gun Safety

Through Equality California’s “Safe and Equal” campaign — started in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting — we’ve supported commonsense gun safety legislation, including Assemblymember Gloria’s AB 2103, which now requires Californians to undergo gun safety training before obtaining a concealed weapons permit.

Under two other new gun safety laws, Californians under the age of 21 are no longer able to purchase a rifle or a shotgun in California, and there is a new lifetime ban prohibiting anyone who has been convicted of serious domestic assault from owning a firearm.

Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice

LGBTQ people face higher rates of hate crimes and incidents, bias-based violence, harassment at the hands of law enforcement, and discrimination within the criminal justice system compared to the general population. Assemblymember Evan Low’s (D-Cambell) AB 2504 now requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop LGBTQ-specific training for law enforcement officers. Improving the law enforcement community’s ability to serve and protect members of the LGBTQ community will help to ensure they respond appropriately to situations that involve LGBTQ people.

With growing rates of hate crimes in California — including those against LGBTQ people — Assemblymember Phil Ting’s (D-San Francisco) AB 1985 now provides guidance for local law enforcement agencies to update and strengthen their policies on hate crimes.

LGBTQ Older Adults

Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin’s (D-Thousand Oak) AB 2719 now recognizes LGBTQ older adults as a population in need of special attention and ensures that they can access the services and support they need to maintain their health and live their lives with dignity.

Tax Equity

Thanks to Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) and Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, AB 2663 provides retroactive relief to LGBTQ Californians who were registered as domestic partners in municipal jurisdictions and may have had their property taxes increased due to the death of a partner.

Rick Zbur is the executive director of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization.

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