The California State Assembly passed two bills – authored by Senator Mark Leno and co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Equality California, and Transgender Law Center – protecting transgender people who work for companies doing business with state agencies and transgender children in the foster care system.
The first bill, Senate Bill 703, prohibits state agencies from doing business with companies that fail to offer transgender employees the same health care coverage and benefits they provide all other workers. The second bill, Senate Bill 731, extends to all foster children the right to placements consistent with their gender identity. Both bills will return to the Senate for a vote on amendments taken in the Assembly before heading to the Governor’s desk for consideration.
SB 703 builds on existing California law and prohibits state agencies from entering into a contract in the amount of $100,000 or more, with any company that fails to offer equal benefits to all employees regardless of their gender identity. Equal benefit laws, starting with San Francisco’s landmark equal benefits law passed in 1996, are credited with the rapid expansion of benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees and creating a marketplace for insurance companies to start offering policies providing benefits for same-sex couples.
“By ensuring that the state contracts only with companies that provide equal benefits to their transgender employees, California will save money and help reduce discrimination. Equal benefits laws for employees with same-sex partners have dramatically expanded the number of employees in same-sex relationships who now receive equal benefits, and this bill will do the same for transgender employees,” said NCLR Government Policy Director Geoff Kors, who drafted San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance in his former role as legislative chair of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
When a child enters California’s foster care system, child welfare workers consider a host of factors when choosing an appropriate placement. The Foster Care Bill of Rights gives all foster youth the right to fair and equal access to services and the right to be free from discrimination based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. State law, however, does not provide specific guidance on placing youth who are transgender. SB 731 provides that guidance.
“As a former foster youth who was in the system for 16 years, I am living proof that a supportive environment helps nurture success,” said Kevin West, a Sacramento student and nanny who entered the foster care system as a toddler. “My caregivers fully embraced my gender identity as a teenager and helped create a situation where other foster kids also accepted me. Not all transgender foster youth have stories like mine, but with this change in law, I’m hopeful they will.”
Studies show that LGBT youth are at higher risk for homelessness, victimization, depression, and suicide. Transgender youth in particular are at high risk for poor health outcomes due to the rejection and harassment they face. These risks are magnified for young people in foster care, many of whom have already experienced significant trauma.
“SB 731 provides critical guidance to child welfare professionals by making clear that all children in foster care have the right to placements that are consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the sex listed in their court or child welfare records,” said NCLR Youth Policy Director Shannan Wilber. “By extending equal treatment to transgender children, California once again demonstrates its commitment to achieving safety, permanence, and well-being for all children in the custody of its child welfare system.”