By Rick Zbur, Equality California
This week, we wrapped up the second convening of Fair Share for Equality, our annual forum of California state and local elected officials, LGBT and civil rights leaders and social service agencies, aimed at addressing the daunting disparities in health and wellbeing LGBT people still face compared to the general population. In her address to the audience, California Controller Betty Yee said that “the agenda for California and the rest of the country is quite vast.”
It is indeed. Vast, even in California, which boasts a full suite of LGBT civil rights protections. Vast, even following the raucous marriage equality victory celebrations of last summer.
Equality California’s staff and board spent much of 2014 in a strategic reevaluation of our mission in light of that anticipated marriage equality victory. This week, we released our annual Legislative Scorecard, detailing the first year in which our legislative strategy was guided by that expanded mission. Before California Governor Jerry Brown finally put a cap on his pen on October 11 – the deadline for him to sign bills sent to him by the legislature – he had signed all seven bills that crossed his desk sponsored by Equality California in 2015. These pieces of legislation all have one thing in common. Each advances objectives of our refocused mission in three key areas: reducing LGBT disparities in health and wellbeing, creating a fair and just society for all communities that LGBT people are part of, and advancing LGBT civil rights and acceptance both inside and outside of California.
Reducing the glaring disparities in health and wellbeing that LGBT people still suffer compared to the non-LGBT population. In spite of the enormous civil rights gains that the LGBT community has made over the past two decades, LGBT people still suffer in the most basic benchmarks of community health and wellbeing. Historically, state health and social services agencies did not include gender identity or sexual orientation when they collected demographic information about the people they serve. This lack of information prevents an accurate assessment of the LGBT community’s needs and whether or not government programs are serving LGBT people. This year, EQCA sponsored a bill that mandates that health and social service agencies finally include our community when they collect demographic information, which will help assess, develop and guide programs for LGBT people in need.
LGBT students still face bullying and harassment in schools, contributing to mental health problems, suicide attempts and high dropout rates. One of our co-sponsored bills this year required updating of California sex education materials to include LGBT people and families, to improve school climate and increase rates of academic success for LGBT kids. Another sponsored bill requires school districts to give teachers the resources they need to combat bullying, and to support LGBT students who are facing a lack of acceptance in school, at home or in the community.
Transgender people still confront discrimination, harassment and violence on a daily basis, including even in settings that should be the safest. We co-sponsored legislation this year that protects transgender kids in foster care by requiring social service workers to consider their gender identity as a factor before placing them in a potentially dangerous foster home. And because transgender people are far less likely to have health coverage than the general population, another EQCA-co-sponsored bill requires out-of-state companies who contract with the state of California to offer the same health insurance to transgender employees offered to everyone else.
Finally, we supported efforts – inside the Capitol and across the state – to bring healthcare to undocumented LGBT Californians, among the most marginalized members of our community. We were delighted that Governor Jerry Brown included funding in the state budget to extend health care coverage under Medi-Cal to undocumented children below the age of 19.
Full equality and acceptance, inside California and beyond. Our work increasingly extends outside our state’s borders. This year, we sponsored a joint resolution urging President Obama to work to end the discriminatory federal ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men and some transgender people. Our cosponsored legislation requiring equal health coverage for transgender employees means that companies located in other states that contract with the state of California must conform to California law and not discriminate. And because of the size and purchasing power of California school districts, our work on AB 329, which requires that sex education curricula reflect LGBT people and their families, means that textbooks used by millions of school kids nationwide will conform to California standards. We also sponsored signed legislation that prohibits the exclusion of potential jurors from a jury pool on the basis of gender identity, and a two-year bill that would limit charities eligible for donations through a state-employee giving plan to those that do not discriminate against LGBT people.
Creating a fair and just society. California’s estimated 250,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants are generally shut out of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That is the reason we supported legislation to extend coverage under Medi-Cal to undocumented Californians, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), and the resulting decision by the legislature and the governor to include funds as part of this year’s budget to extend Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children.
The agenda ahead of us is vast. Addressing the many remaining needs of the most vulnerable in our community will require the effort of each of us, as individuals, as organizations and in coalitions, for many years to come.
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