Score! A Transgender People’s Victory in the State of California

New laws make it easier to get ID and clarify what should be a basic truth: You can't discriminate against somebody because they're transgender.

By Akiba Solomon Oct 12, 2011

In California, where one in four transgender people earn wages below the poverty level and trans folk of color are up to a third poorer than their white counterparts, two important anti-discrimination bills have become law.

Signed on Monday, the new Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887) carves out a specific category for "gender identity and expression" in the existing law against discrimination at work, school, the doctor’s office, housing, and public spaces. Transgender people were already protected from, say, being fired or evicted for coming out, but according to the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, many didn’t know their rights.

The Vital Statistics Modernization Act (AB 433), also passed on Monday, eliminates demeaning hoops that transgender people have to jump through to update their birth certificates and get a court-ordered gender change. The Transgender Law Center is one of three organizations that led the push for these changes. Program manager Maceo Persson explains how Cali’s trans folk will benefit.

Let’s start with the AB 433, the ID law. Explain what the obstacles were.

Before the Vital Statistics Modernization Act, people could do a legal gender change but it was a very intimidating, outmoded process instituted in the 1970s. It was almost like getting a legal name change: You’d fill out a form, get a court date and stand before a judge to state why you wanted to do a gender change. But then the judge–not your doctor–would get to decide whether you’d undergone ‘clinically appropriate treatment’ to be your authentic self. AB 433 helps ensure that that decision stays between you and your doctor. Transitioning is a personal and medical process. AB 433 puts judges out of the business of making medical decisions; now they just verify that you’re undergoing treatment so you can get the ID you need.

How will this impact immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum because they’re transgender?

Well, [many] transgender people immigrate to California so they can be their true self. When people come here and apply for asylum, they [usually] have a one-year [review] period. This law allows them to apply for a legal gender change simultaneously. It also streamlines the process overall because it conforms to the same standards that apply to changing your gender on your passport. You’re less likely to end up having a bunch of different standards for establishing your gender, and you’re less likely to deal with the discrimination and harassment you get when you don’t have consistent ID.

Talk about the basic non-discrimination law, AB 887. If transgender people had rights, why did you need to spell it out?

Because gender identification and expression weren’t listed on, say, the worker protection posters you see in the kitchen at your job, or in the equal opportunity clause of your lease agreement, people didn’t understand that they’re weren’t allowed to discriminate. We kept getting calls from trans and gender nonconforming people who had looked at their workplace posters or the nondiscrimination notices at their school and were confused about whether they were protected. They literally didn’t know that they had rights. This law makes it clear that the discrimination they might experience in the workplace, the community health clinic, at school is illegal.

And how does race factor in?

In our research we’ve found that a lot of trans people face some kind of discrimination in their everyday lives. The rates of discrimination almost correlate directly to income level and education attainment. Because of systemic racial oppression, trans folks of color are likely to have fewer employment opportunities, lower education levels and have less income. It’s almost like they’re caught in a cycle of discrimination. This law will [interrupt] that cycle.

For information about the connection between race and gender discrimination on a national level, click here.