A California bill to decree "gender affirmation" part of a child's health, safety, and welfare in the context of custody disputes advanced Tuesday after hundreds of parents showed up to a committee hearing to voice their opposition.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation in a party-line vote after nearly two hours of debate and testimony, almost all from opposed Californians. A diverse group, including teachers, pastors, San Francisco Democrats, immigrants, gays, and a "gender-nonconforming" mom, spoke against the bill. Many drove several hours from Southern California to make their views known to lawmakers.
"There would be no ability for a parent to even bring in a medical provider to counter the statement that affirming is in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of a child," said Erin Friday, a San Francisco attorney and co-lead of the parent group Our Duty who testified against the bill. "You can't overcome that conclusion when it is law."
Under the bill, which passed the State Assembly in March, judges in custody dispute cases involving transgender-identifying children would be required to favor a parent who "affirms" his or her child's gender identity. The bill's authors updated the language last week to specifically make "non-affirmation" a violation of health, safety, and welfare in California's family code. Critics warned the change could lead to abuse claims against parents who do not go along with their child's transgender identity.
Acknowledging the groundswell of public opposition on Tuesday, some Democrats on the panel expressed discomfort with the bill's silence on what counts as parental "affirmation." A few questioned the bill's real-world implications and said they would like to see changes even as they voted to move the measure along for a full Senate vote.
The primary author of the bill, Assemblywoman Lori Wilson (D.), did not define "affirmation" but said the term does not encompass OK'ing medical sex changes. What is important, she argued, is that the state guide judges to "see" transgender-identifying children, many of whom are "not safe in their own homes because of a non-affirming or abusive caretaker."
"I love judicial [discretion]," Wilson said. "But … we want to make sure that … every judge in the state of California recognizes that for a [transgender, gender-diverse, or intersex] child, affirmation is in their absolute best interest. Period."
Her coauthor, Sen. Scott Wiener (D.), dismissed the public outcry as a result of "a pretty massive misinformation campaign about this bill by the right-wing media." He claimed the opponents were part of an effort "to erase trans kids" and an "attack on gay and lesbian kids." Wiener, who is gay, also complained that some critics treated him as the primary author, which he described as "straight-up homophobia."
A few other Democrats questioned the bill's real-world implications and said they would like to see changes even as they voted to move the measure along for a full Senate vote. But most agreed the state should intervene in how parents handle their children's gender identities.
Sen. María Elena Durazo (D.) declared that she has two transgender family members and that she was looking at the proposal "through the eyes of unconditional love." Sen. Anna Caballero (D.) said affirmation is about parents "accepting and helping their children through whatever transition that they're going through."
The two Republicans on the panel, meanwhile, warned that the bill could be destructive to California families.
Sen. Roger Niello (R.) asked why California law should require "gender affirmation" of children at a time when Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are starting to have doubts about the practice.
"The elevation of the issue accepts gender affirmation care as an accomplished science and accepts gender affirmation as the appropriate approach by a parent," Niello said. "My concern is, given the conclusions of the U.K. and those three Scandinavian countries—not exactly restrictive-type societies—I have concerns about making the conclusion that this bill does, bringing it into a custody dispute."
Sen. Scott Wilk (R.) was more definitive in his criticism, saying the bill will make it so that children of a parent who "does not support the ideology of the government" will be "taken away from the home."
"I can assure you it's not gonna end with divorce proceedings," he said. "If you love your children, you need to flee California. You need to flee."
Wilk added: "Born and raised in this state, I love this state. I'm not gonna stay in this state because it's just too oppressive. And I believe in freedom and so I'm going to move to America when I leave the Legislature."