Celebrate Pride Month by Improving California Laws

By Amanda Goad

June is Pride month, a month to celebrate the strength and activism of LGBTQ people. Communities across California honor the spirit of Pride every year with parades, marches, and other events. But as we celebrate, it’s also important to remember that even in California, we still have work to do to secure true, lived equality, particularly for LGBTQ people who are also part of other historically marginalized groups. That’s why we at the ACLU of California are excited to be working on three LGBTQ-related bills this year that will make life better for students, youth in foster care, and people in jail or prison.

First, we are working on legislation to make sure California charter school students get the same comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive, and science-based sex ed other public school students are already getting. Quality sex ed provides young people with the knowledge and skills to develop healthy relationships and navigate issues of consent.

In 2015, the ACLU of California and other advocates secured the groundbreaking California Healthy Youth Act, which requires public schools to provide comprehensive, scientifically accurate sex education. Importantly, sex ed lessons must include discussion of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations and acknowledge same-sex relationships. This law was a huge victory for LGBTQ youth. Research shows that inclusive instruction helps promote a safe school climate for LGBTQ students and improves health outcomes for students generally.

However, although charter schools are public schools, they weren’t included in the California Healthy Youth Act. So this year, we’re working on AB 2601, a bill that will make sure charter school students aren’t left in the dark when it comes to sex ed. AB 2601 is an important step toward ensuring that ALL young people receive the information and tools they need to make healthy choices regardless of who they are or where they live. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is moving through the state Senate. Contact your state Senator today to ask them for a YES vote on AB 2601!

Another bill we’re working on to build a more inclusive and healthy California for LGBTQ youth is AB 2119. Transgender and gender non-conforming youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. Unfortunately, the very caregivers and professionals tasked with taking care of these young people can fail to respect their gender or provide the gender-specific support they need.

Child welfare agencies are already required to assess the health and behavioral health needs of all young people in foster care and ensure they receive appropriate and timely care to address the needs identified by qualified professionals. AB 2119 will affirm the right of trans and gender non-conforming young people in the foster care system to access necessary gender-affirming medical care and behavioral health care, an important step toward ensuring that all young people in out-of-home care can live healthy, safe, and authentic lives. Despite some nasty opposition from groups who deny that trans young people’s identities are real or worthy of support, AB 2119 has passed the Assembly and is now moving through the state Senate.

Finally, we’re also working on a bill to give LGBTQ Californians equal access to education, work, and rehabilitation programs while in custody. LGBTQ people, and especially transfeminine people of color, are disproportionately likely to be entangled in the criminal justice system and spend time in jail or prison, often due to law enforcement bias and economic marginalization that forces people into survival economies. Once incarcerated, trans women and other LGBTQ folks are at high risk of sexual victimization and other forms of violence and harassment.

In a terrible irony, many jails and prisons place LGBTQ-identified detainees in segregated “protective” housing, but don’t allow folks in those housing units to access critical programming – such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, GED classes, and vocational training – that people in general population get. This not only can make the experience of incarceration harsher for LGBTQ people and reduce their chances at successful reentry, but also can lengthen their punishment by impairing their ability to qualify for early release or parole. SB 990 will require prison and jail officials to provide equal programming opportunities for people who are housed separately for their own protection. This bill will also require prisons and jails to ask transgender detainees their preferred name and pronouns and to honor those preferences. SB 990 has passed the state Senate and is now moving through the Assembly.

The ACLU of California is proud to be working with broad coalitions of other advocates to secure passage of these three bills. Together, we hope to achieve a California where EVERY LGBTQ person enjoys respect, safety, and true equality.

Amanda Goad is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.