Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a measure requiring health providers to track COVID-19 and all other communicable diseases in the LGBTQ community, a step that advocates called crucial for catching outbreaks early and combating stigma in the public-health system.
Scott Wiener and Gavin Newsom during a get-out-the-vote rally at Balboa Park in San Francisco on Nov. 5, 2016. On Saturday, Gov. Newsom signed a pair of bills by state Sen. Wiener, requiring the state to track COVID-19 and all other communicable diseases in the LGBTQ community, and to allow transgender, intersex and gender nonbinary people incarcerated in California to decide whether to be housed in a men’s or women’s prison.
SB932 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, will mandate that health workers ask patients infected with the coronavirus and about 90 other diseases about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Patients could decline to answer.
In a statement, Newsom said Saturday that the data collection is “essential to addressing health inequities and designing public health interventions that help California’s diverse communities.”
The California Department of Public Health did not require health providers to start gathering data on LGBTQ people who contract the coronavirus until July, and many providers still aren’t collecting the information. Advocates criticized the delay, saying LGBTQ people are vulnerable to the virus because of underlying health issues such as a higher prevalence of HIV, some cancers and respiratory problems from smoking, as well as elevated levels of homelessness.
Wiener’s bill makes the data reporting permanent and requires all counties and health providers to ask the same LGBTQ demographic questions.
The state already gathers data on patient race, age and gender for COVID-19 and all other communicable diseases it tracks. LGBTQ leaders say that if the state knows how the coronavirus or other diseases are spreading in a demographic group, health officials can identify outbreaks more quickly and come up with messages that will reach the community.
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, the LGBTQ advocacy group that helped write the bill, said the measure will prevent the community from being neglected by public health officials, as it was during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
“Nearly four decades after I watched the government look the other way as our community was devastated by the AIDS crisis, I am proud to say California has become the first state to mandate the collection of voluntary LGBTQ+ data for all reportable communicable diseases,” Zbur said in a statement.
Newsom signed another bill Saturday by Wiener, SB132, which will allow transgender, intersex and gender nonbinary people incarcerated in California to decide whether to be housed in a men’s or women’s prison.
In most cases, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation now houses transgender and other gender-variant people in prisons according to their sex assigned at birth.
Advocates and incarcerated transgender people say the current policy exposes them to attacks. Transgender women in California prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men, and 59% reported being assaulted while in prison, according to a 2007 study by UC Irvine researchers.
In a release by Newsom’s office, Wiener thanked the governor “for once again proving you are a champion for LGBTQ people.”
He called the prison bill “life-saving legislation that will protect trans people in prison, particularly trans women who are subject to high levels of assault and harassment in men’s facilities.”
The health data-gathering measure for LGBTQ people “ensures our community will no longer be invisible, and that we will be counted by our public health system,” Wiener said. “Today is a great day for California’s LGBTQ community and yet another example of California’s deep commitment to LGBTQ equality.”