California will house transgender, nonbinary, and intersex prisoners according to their gender identity -- and where they feel most safe -- under a bill signed into law Saturday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with several other pro-LGBTQ+ bills.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener, requires officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to ask inmates confidentially, during intake, if they identify in one of those categories, the Associated Press reports. The inmates then can request to be placed in either a men's or a women's facility.
The Department of Corrections can deny a request based on "management or security concerns," the law states, but not simply because of a prisoner's anatomy. And if the request is denied, the state must put its reasons in writing and give the inmate an opportunity to challenge the decision.
Until now, California has housed most prisoners according to the gender they were assigned at birth, something that often puts trans women in danger.
The new law "means a lot to me and my sisters," Michelle Calvin, a transgender woman incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, said in a conference call with the AP and other news outlets. "I've been in for 15 years. I've been through the abuse, I've been through the disrespect of staff not addressing me for who I am because I am a woman." The law requires corrections officials to use inmates' preferred pronouns.
Wiener said he does not expect the "management or security concerns" exception to be used often. "It's just a false narrative about transgender people and about transgender women in particular that they're somehow not really women and are just trying to scam their way into women's bathrooms or facilities in order to do bad things," he told the AP. "Overwhelmingly, the people who are being victimized are trans people."
California joins Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York City in housing inmates according to gender identity.
Among the other bills, one establishes the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund, which will assist organizations serving transgender, gender-nonconforming, or intersex people, and help create or fund housing programs and partnerships with hospitals, health care clinics, and other medical providers to provide care focused on these populations.
Another requires health care providers treating communicable diseases to collect information on patients' sexual orientation and gender identity on a more accurate and timely basis. This will help address health inequities, something especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, notes a press release from the governor's office. One more will prohibit health insurers from discriminating against people who are HIV-positive.
"California has some of the strongest pro-LGBTQ+ laws in the nation and with the bills signed today, our march toward equality takes an additional step forward," Newsom said in the press release. "These new laws will help us better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community, establish a new fund to support our transgender sisters and brothers and advance inclusive and culturally competent efforts that uphold the dignity of all Californians, regardless of who you are or who you love."