New California Law Allows Jail Time for Using Wrong Gender Pronoun

It has been reported that Governor Jerry Brown signed into a law that would make it a crime to “willfully and repeatedly” decline to use a senior transgender patient’s “preferred name or pronouns.”  SB 179 (“Gender Recognition Act”) was signed into law back in October. The law will allow individuals to update state-issued identification documents (including birth certificates, state identification cards, and driver’s licenses) to select “nonbinary” as their gender.

Specifically, S.B. 179 states: “It shall be unlawful for a long-term care facility or facility staff to take any of the following actions wholly or partially on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status.” Among the unlawful actions are “willfully and repeatedly” failing to use a transgender person’s “preferred name or pronouns” after he or she is “clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.”

However, there has been some confusion about the consequences of the law. The sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, has claimed that nobody is going to be criminally prosecuted for using the wrong pronoun. Rather, Wiener says that the bill is aimed at at protecting transgender and other LGBT individuals in hospitals, retirement homes, and assisted living facilities. It is intended to ensure that those medical facilities accommodate transgender people and their needs, including letting them decide which gender-specific bathroom they prefer to use.

This law may also affect employment law, as employers should also allow both nonbinary and transgender employees to indicate their preferred name and choice of pronoun while updating their staff health records.

It is reported that a healthcare worker who is found guilty of repeatedly breaching the law would be facing a maximum fine of $1,000, a year in prison, or both. The proposed legislation has met fierce opposition from conservative groups, criticizing the law’s overreaching authority and the threat to freedom of speech.

Up until now, crimes of discrimination, were covered under California’s hate crime laws, which are covered under California Penal Code § 422.

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