Safe(r) to be Queer Here

LGBT and HIV-positive Californians earned major victories in Sacramento last weekend.

While Donald Trump continues to prove he’s not an ally in the slightest to his LGBT constituents, California marches steadily forward in its protection of queer residents.

This weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 179 — known as the Gender Recognition Act — which allows residents of the state to use a gender marker other than “F” or “M” on drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. This move not only grants people the freedom to legally identify as non-binary, but also makes it possible for people to change their gender on documents without a physician’s letter.

Brown also signed a bill that offers protection against discrimination for LGBT seniors in long-term elder-care facilities. State Bill 219 — or the LGBT Senior Long-Term Care Bill of Rights — was introduced in February by Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu. It dictates that senior homes are not allowed to bar entry to residents based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status — which, based on a 2011 study, was a legitimate fear for 89 percent of queer seniors nationwide.

“Our LGBT seniors built the modern LGBT community and were on the front lines of so many battles to expand our civil rights and fight the AIDS epidemic in its earliest and most horrific days,” Wiener says. “They deserve to age with dignity and respect, and that means making sure our long-term care facilities have culturally competent policies and procedures in place.”

Last but certainly not least, Brown updated a draconian law that criminalized HIV-positive individuals who “solicited” sex. Under SB-239, all felony charges for solicitation are now lowered to a misdemeanor.

Created at the height of the HIV scare in the 1980s, the original law was sloppily written; even if a sexual act didn’t take place, the suspect could be charged with a felony. A study of the more than 800 HIV-positive people who came into contact with the criminal system under this law in the past three decades showed that 95 percent were convicted under the felony solicitation law.

But in the past 30 years, medical advancements have dramatically changed the ways in which HIV is transmitted and treated. Sup. Jeff Sheehy, who replaced Wiener in District 8, blasted the antiquated legal framework at a press conference earlier this year. “You have someone who is HIV-positive like me, where their disease is completely suppressed, who can have sex with someone who is on PrEP, and the risk of transmission is zero,” he said. “Yet according to the way this law is written, the HIV-positive person would be liable for prosecution. This law should never have been written in the first place, it’s absolutely terrible for public health.”

That Brown signed these bills together late Sunday night (while the nation’s leader tweeted hate messages to The New York Times) also serves as a statement to those running the shit show in Washington D.C. As Trump bans transgender people from the military and eliminates their protections in school and at work, California continues to pass bill after bill undoing that work, and slowly raises a big middle finger to our pathetic excuse for a president.

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