California Bill Would Criminalize Skilled Nursing Workers Who ‘Repeatedly, Willfully’ Fail to Use Preferred Pronouns

Photo Credit: Ginny Austin

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A proposed bill in California is raising concern as it would criminalize skilled nursing workers who “repeatedly and willfully” fail to use the preferred to pronoun for patients who identify as transgender or don’t allow them to use their desired restroom “regardless of whether the resident is making a gender transition or appears to be gender-nonconforming.”

S.B. 219, also known as the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Long-Term Care Facility Resident’s Bill of Rights,” was written by Sen. Scott Wiener in an effort to combat perceived discrimination against homosexuals and transgenders in long-term care facilities.

He cites a 2011 study in which 43 percent of those questioned stated that they had personally experienced discrimination or witnessed a homosexual or transgender person being mistreated, including being verbally or physically harassed, denied recognition of the medical power of attorney of their significant other, or not being called by the person’s preferred name or pronoun.

Therefore, the proposed law would prohibit skilled nursing employees from “refusing to assign a room to a transgender resident other than in accordance with the transgender resident’s gender identity,” “prohibit[ing] a resident from using … a restroom available to other persons of the same gender identity,” “deny[ing] a resident the right to wear or be dressed in clothing, accessories, or cosmetics that are permitted for any other resident,” and “willfully and repeatedly fail[ing] to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns after being clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns,” among other aspects.

The bill has been met with opposition, including from the California Family Council, which testified against the measure in the Assembly Judiciary Committee in July.

“How can you believe in free speech, but think the government can compel people to use certain pronouns when talking to others?” Greg Burt, the director of capitol engagement, asked. “This is not tolerance. This is not love. This is not mutual respect. True tolerance tolerates people with different views.”

“People have sincerely-held religious views about about gender that are not based on malice or hatred. But this bill seeks to make their view of gender illegal,” he lamented. “Compelled speech is not free speech. Can the government compel a newspaper to use certain pronouns that aren’t even in the dictionary? Of course not. What is coming next?”

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But according to the California Family Council, Wiener outlined during the same hearing that if the bill becomes law, people of faith still must follow the requirement.

“The argument that religious views can create an exemption for civil rights laws or complying with civil rights laws is a highly radical notion,” he stated. “Everyone is entitled to their religious view, 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.”

Elliot Kaufman of the National Review decried this viewpoint in a Aug. 25 op-ed, writing, “This is essentially the French view, known as laïcité. Wiener will let you be a Jew or Christian in your own home, but as soon as you step out, you ‘enter in the public space’—and there, he believes, there can be no Jews or Christians, only loyal servants of the state. [God’s] Law may flourish in private, but in public it must bow before the law.”

“This misunderstands religion, or more precisely, it redefines religion,” he continued. “The Christian faith, after all, is not merely one part of a man’s life. It cannot be compartmentalized and set aside from nine to five, or in public locations, as secularists wish. Nor does the ‘free exercise of religion’ in the Bill of Rights recognize a right to pray on Sundays; rather, it protects the right to practice a faith that is central to every part of life.”

Burt notes that the legislation attaches itself to existing penalties under section 1569 of the California Health and Safety Code, which include a fine of up to $1,000 or jail time of up to one year, or both.

The bill has already passed the Assembly Committee unanimously and is being considered in the Senate.

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