For the third time in a week, California is set to pass one of the nation’s most progressive bills on LGBTQ rights.
Assembly Bill 2119 would ensure transgender youth in foster care have access to health care consistent with their gender identity. In a survey from UCLA’s The Williams Institute, 13 percent of LGBTQ young people in the foster system say they have faced discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bill author Assemblymember Todd Gloria, who is openly gay, called the legislation a “momentous sign of hope” for this tremendously overrepresented group who are too frequently “neglected, forgotten, or out of place.”
“With this bill, I hope those foster youth will be assured that we see you, we care about you, and there is a place for you in California,” said Gloria in a statement. “AB 2119 will empower transgender foster youth to live authentically and simply be themselves. Governor Brown now has the power to make that a reality.”
After passing the California Assembly on Wednesday by a 53 to 22 vote, AB 2119 is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He is likely to sign it.
Three years ago Brown approved a similarly groundbreaking bill mandating child welfare workers and caregivers consider the gender identity of trans youth when determining placement.
AB 2119 goes even further than previous legislation by requiring the California Department of Social Services to “develop guidelines on how to identify, coordinate, and support foster youth who wish to access gender-affirming health care,” according to Equality California.
Types of health care which fall under the bill’s purview include counseling and mental health services, as well as gender-affirming hormone therapy and transition care.
Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur claimed the bill will “save lives.”
“[AB 2119] gives LGBTQ foster youth room to focus on other important aspects of their lives, including succeeding in school, building healthy relationships, and fully engaging in positive youth development programs,” Zbur said in a statement.
Shannan Wilber, youth policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), agreed.
“Every young person in foster care deserves, and is entitled to, medically necessary health and behavioral health care,” Wilber said in a press release. “The harms caused by the denial or delay of medically necessary care are particularly acute for transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth, who often encounter barriers to receiving the care they need to ensure their health, safety, and well-being.”
A 2017 study from Lambda Legal found that transgender youth routinely struggle to access gender-affirming resources in foster care.
Savannah, a trans young person currently in foster care in the northeast, told researchers with the LGBTQ advocacy group that her caseworker prevented her from wearing feminine clothing, saying it wasn’t “gender appropriate.” Meanwhile, Jennifer was forced to bunk with a boy based on the residential treatment facility policy that room assignments be determined on the basis of “biological sex.”
Only two other states in the U.S., Florida and New York, have foster care laws on the books that define sex as inclusive of gender identity. Tennessee explicitly limits its definition of sex to a youth’s gender as assigned at birth.
Although AB 2119 was widely supported by advocacy groups like American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, conservative policy organizations have fiercely opposed its passage. The California Family Council called the proposal “questionable,” while comparing hormone treatment to “child abuse.”
“Some medical professionals question the ‘thin’ scientific evidence used to support the safety of puberty-blocking drugs on children, while others call it child abuse,” the organization claimed in a statement. “These doctors also question the wisdom of encouraging young children to identify as the opposite sex, when ‘they might otherwise have, as they grow older, found their gender to be aligned with their sex.’”
The California Family Council also complained it would prevent child welfare workers from forcing trans youth into conversion therapy.
“The law also specifically prohibits counseling from ‘licensed professionals or any other individual’ … ‘aimed at aligning a child’s or non-minor dependent’s assigned sex at birth and gender identity,’” the lobby group said.
“Stated simply, that means if a five-year-old boy starts referring to himself as a girl, he can only be encouraged to believe his self-perceptions about his sex,” it continued. “No attempt should be made by anyone to tell the boy, he really is a boy, if his feeling [sic] say something else.”
That objection, however, is already moot. In 2012, California became the first state to ban conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice of attempting to “cure” the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth.
The state is poised to pass another bill classifying orientation change efforts as “fraud.” Like AB 2119, that proposal also sits on Gov. Brown’s desk.
As the two equality bills await consideration from the Democratic governor, the nation’s largest state has been on a roll of passing historic regulations protecting the rights of LGBTQ people. This week the California State Legislature signed a resolution condemning intersex surgeries as “akin to torture” and prioritized funding for queer and trans older adults.
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