A bill that passed the California state senate and is now moving through the Assembly could threaten jail time for anyone who refuses to use a transgender person’s preferred pronoun.
The law is currently limited in its effects to nursing homes and intermediate-care facilities, but if passed, those who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse “to use a transgender resident’s preferred name or pronouns” could be slapped with a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison, according to the California Heath and Safety code. The state senate passed the bill 26-12 at the end of May. Since then, the Assembly Judiciary committee recommended the bill unanimously and the General Assembly held its first hearing on the legislation Wednesday.
“How can you believe in free speech, but think the government can compel people to use certain pronouns when talking to others?” Greg Burt of the California Family Council testified in July. “This is not tolerance. This is not love. This is not mutual respect. True tolerance tolerates people with different views. We need to treat each other with respect, but respect is a two-way street. It is not respectful to threaten people with punishment for having sincerely held beliefs that differ from your own.”
Titled the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Long-Term Care Facility Residents Bill of Rights,” the legislation also requires nursing homes and care facilities to allow residents to use the bathroom of their choice, regardless of biological sex. The bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Weiner, argues that religious views don’t hold weight in public areas.
“Everyone is entitled to their religious view,” Weiner said. “But when you enter the public space, when you are running an institution, you are in a workplace, you are in a civil setting, and you have to follow the law.”
Experts argue it is “pretty unlikely that, if this law is enacted, such prohibitions would be limited just to this [nursing home] scenario,” UCLA First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh told National Review. Volokh speculates that lawmakers chose to apply the bill to nursing homes not because there is an overabundance of transgender seniors in the state, but because the demographic group is likely to garner sympathy.
The bill is one of several pieces of gender discrimination legislation moving through California’s Congress this summer. The body is also considering mandatory transgender training programs for companies that have more than 50 employees, CBS Sacramento reported.
While that legislation doesn’t punish those who refuse to use gender identity pronouns, it does affirm the right to transgender people to be called what they wish.
Both bills await decision in the Assembly.