Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Chiu bills would help LGBTs


Assemblyman David Chiu. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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State agencies would be required to collect LGBT demographic information and laws regarding the rights of parents who use assisted reproduction, as well as sperm donors, would be modernized under legislation being introduced Thursday.

The lead author of the two bills is freshman Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), a straight lawmaker who has pledged to make LGBT issues one of his top legislative priorities during his first term.

The first bill, the LGBT Disparities Reduction Act, would instruct state agencies to begin collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity no later than July 1, 2017, according to a draft version of the bill Chiu's office shared with the Bay Area Reporter this week.

"It is high time for LGBT communities to count and be counted in California," said Chiu.

Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, is sponsoring the bill as it has made LGBT data collection one of its top legislative goals.

"Our focus is addressing the disparities in health and well being in our community," said EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur. "Without data collection in the state, we have no basis to understand whether or not government programs are meeting the needs of our community."

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2013, partly due to the cost associated with having to upgrade state forms and computer systems. Over the ensuing years the number of LGBT advocates, health officials, and academic researchers speaking out on the need for better data about the LGBT community has only grown.

"There is something very disconcerting about being invisible to your government. It is a type of institutionalized heterosexism to not have our identity counted," said Poshi Mikalson, the
LGBTQ program director
at Sacramento-based NorCal MHA, formerly known as Mental Health America of Northern California.

Mikalson, a lesbian married mother of three, is also the director of the LGBTQ Reducing Disparities Project, which is housed at her agency and funded by the California Department of Public Health. She noted that the same concerns about privacy and relevance brought up by those questioning the need for LGBT data collection were also raised years ago about adding questions on race and ethnicity to state forms.

"What we oftentimes hear is, 'Well, we don't have the money.' What that really means is we do not value this information enough to spend the money," said Mikalson. "I can't deny there is a cost involved. But, again, we find the money for things that we value."

San Francisco officials are working on a local ordinance to require city agencies to begin collecting such data, and the state health exchange Covered California also wants to ask LGBT questions of those signing up for insurance.

New York state has been leading the way on the matter. Officials at a variety of agencies in the Empire State have already begun to collect LGBT information or are set to do so in coming months.

Chiu's legislation specifically directs five California departments to collect "voluntary self-identification information" pertaining to LGBT people. The agencies are the departments of health care services, public health, social services, aging, and fair employment and housing.

"There is a strong sense now is the time to address disparities in health and social services," said Chiu. "We know from various studies, including the federal government, there are significant health disparities within the LGBT community that are very real and need to be addressed."

Yet without LGBT-specific data, public officials are blind to what the real needs are within the LGBT community, where to direct services, and how much funding is needed, advocates argue.

"If you can't measure or track disparities and challenges, you can't fix them," said Chiu. "What we don't know, we can't address."

Mikalson told the B.A.R. that, at a minimum, state agencies need to ask three questions, the first specific to if a person's sexual orientation is straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

A second question should ask how the person identifies their gender, with the third asking what gender a person was assigned at birth. Otherwise, said Mikalson, pertinent information about the state's transgender community will be missing.

"This is not the panacea. It is step one and better than nothing," she said.

The draft legislation shared with the B.A.R. does not specify how the questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity should be asked. And it remains unknown what the cost would be for the agencies to upgrade their forms and data collection systems.

It is purposefully vague on the matter to allow the various state departments to determine what will work best for their agency.

"We want to be sensitive to the various ways government agencies collect data. There needs to be some flexibility on how the data is collected to minimize the cost," said Zbur. "We want to make sure the cost is not so high we have opposition to this."

Assisted reproduction bill

The second bill Chiu is introducing Thursday is the Equal Protection for All Families Act. It is aimed at updating California parental laws that were written in the 1970s and do not address modern parenting situations.

Under current statutes, a man who donates sperm in order for a woman to conceive a child at home without the supervision of a physician can be declared the legal parent of the child against his wishes as well as the wishes of the mother or couple conceiving the child.

Also, under existing law, the partner of the woman giving birth through assisted reproduction, whether a man or a woman, is automatically considered the second parent only if they are married. For unmarried couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, the parent not conceiving the child must seek legal recourse to be considered the second parent.

"We are trying to correct the two holes in our current reproduction law with this bill. It was written many years ago and doesn't encompass all the ways people have children," said Catherine Sakimura, the family law director and supervising attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Under the broadest stroke, California law doesn't currently recognize the many kinds of families using assisted reproduction. Parents are not getting recognized as parents and donors are not getting recognized as donors."

NCLR, EQCA and Our Family Coalition are co-sponsoring the legislation.

According to the draft version shown to the B.A.R. , the bill would remove the requirement from the state's family law that couples must involve a doctor when using assisted reproduction in order to ensure that the donor is not legally considered a parent. It also would allow unmarried people using assisted reproduction to be fully recognized as parents on the same terms as married parents.

"In 2015 many parents, including same-sex parents, transgender parents, as well as single parents, use home insemination to conceive. Many of these families cannot afford to use a sperm bank or doctor," said Chiu. "We are simply allowing for a home-based process to be used rather than forcing families to incur hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in expenses to become families."

The bill, added Chiu, "also allows unmarried people to use assisted reproduction and be fully recognized on the same legal terms as married parents."

Both of Chiu's bills will be assigned a number once they are officially introduced. They are part of a package of LGBT-related bills, up to eight according to EQCA officials, to be filed ahead of the deadline to do so this Saturday, February 28.

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