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Stranger: ‘Olympia is gayer than it has ever been’

The Stranger recently documented the progress the LGBTQ Caucus made in 2019. Here’s a portion of that story:

With a historically large LGBTQ caucus in the House and Senate, Olympia is gayer than it has ever been. After securing marriage equality, banning conversion therapy, and passing hate crimes legislation in previous years, this session lawmakers focused on passing a slew of bills designed to make systemic change in state law on LGBTQ issues.

“You see this in all civil rights movements,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Marko Liias (D-Lynwood). “First you tear down really explicit discrimination, and that takes time. Now we’re trying to tackle the unseen discrimination, the unseen barriers, and getting better equity.”

The LGBTQ Commission

On Tuesday the Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson, establishing the Washington State LGBTQ Commission. Governor Inslee is expected to sign it into law soon.

Commissions study the entire constellation of problems affecting marginalized populations and then recommend solutions to them to the Legislature or to the Governor. Members of the Women’s Commission, for example, have been studying the gender pay gap and testifying before committees about ways to close it.

Liias, who helped draft the bill, points to several possible avenues of consideration, including looking into how to provide culturally competent care for LGBTQ seniors and elders as they age, preserving LGBTQ history by memorializing people lost to the AIDS crisis, along with many others.

With 15 members, the LGBTQ Commission will be the largest minority commission in the Legislature, reflecting the diversity of the queer community across the state. “I advocated for that especially because the queer community is so broad and diverse,” Liias said. “Other commissions have seven or nine members. But the idea that seven people could represent the breadth of the queer community in Washington would really be a struggle. I don’t want there to be one trans person, for instance, I want there to be a number of trans people.”

To broaden and deepen the work of the commission, Liias also wants it to intersect with other minority commissions—e.g., the African-American Affairs Commission, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs—to tackle the particular needs of Native American LGBTQ people, for example.

The commission will also have an executive director, a state employee who can represent the community within state government. When the state is holding meetings on the minority and women business program to attract diverse contractors, the director could be in that room talking about queer businesses and how they fit into the program’s efforts to have more diverse businesses.

“Establishing this commission is a measure of the maturity of the LGBTQ community and our political force,” Liias said. “Is it going to change something overnight? No, but it creates a convening space to really begin systematically tackling some of these big issues.”

Trans Bullying Bill

After three years of work, it’s looking like the Governor will finally sign Liias’s trans bullying bill, which would make the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s model policy protecting trans students mandatory in all schools across the state. The model policy compiles best practices for addressing the unique needs of trans students surrounding student records, privacy, and restroom/locker room access. The legislation also requires every district to have a point person in charge of implementing this model policy, so trans students or parents/guardians of trans students have a person to contact if they’re having a problem.

The bill moves all bullying laws for all students over to the civil rights department at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which has the ability to withhold state funding from schools who fail to create a safe environment for kids.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, over half of trans kids say they’ve been verbally harassed at school. A quarter of them say they’ve been physically attacked, while 13 percent say they were sexually assaulted. If this kinda thing keeps happening, the superintendent now has a few more sticks to go with the carrots to make districts comply.

Furthermore, though education secretary Betsy DeVos is working to cancel Obama administration guidelines to protect transgender students, Liias’s bill codifies all these protections into state law. So even if DeVos removes the guidelines, and even if we elect some horrible superintendent who also wants to remove the guidelines, Washington trans kids can continue to rely on these protections.

Liias argues that making schools safe for transgender kids will have the net effect of making schools safe for other kids.

“My radical belief is that schools should be the safest place in our society for kids,” Liias said. “We can’t guarantee that people aren’t going to be assholes outside of class. But lets at least make sure that kids are okay when they’re in school and they’re growing and developing as human beings.”

“Also, if we teach the other kids not to be assholes to the trans kids while they’re in school, that will carry forward,” Liias added. “We’re setting social norms that say this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable, period, end of sentence, and I think that will have the net effect of making our communities safer not just for us but for everybody.”

Higher Fines for Hate Crimes

For some reason, state law in Washington refers to hate crimes as “malicious harassment.” This bill, sponsored by Rep. Javier Valdez, changes that language to “hate crime.”

The bill also allows hate crime victims to be rewarded up to $100,000 in punitive damages. “If you fine a hate organization $100,000 a couple times, they’ll have to find a new business model and move on,” Liias said. “So that was a big deal.”

Adding a Nonbinary Option on State Records

The Washington State Department of Health has already added a nonbinary option on state records, but this bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, codifies that into state law.

If in the future some new governor wasn’t going to allow that anymore, they wouldn’t be able to do that thanks to this law.

Reproductive Health Care Bill

Some health insurers have been denying trans people treatment based on their gender. In committee, Liias said, someone testified that a health insurer denied a claim for a broken arm because, they argued, if the patient hadn’t transitioned they wouldn’t have been playing the sport they were playing when they broke their arm. The claim was therefore a transition-related injury, which they didn’t have to cover.

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall, basically ensures that private insurers can’t do that anymore. It also ensures access to reproductive health services to trans people. A trans man, for instance, might need birth control, and the bill would make sure he could get that.

Read the entire story here.

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    Senate passes Randall bill to eliminate barriers to reproductive health care

Senate passes Randall bill to eliminate barriers to reproductive health care

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate voted 28-17 today to pass the Reproductive Health Access for All Act (RHAA).

Senate Bill 5602, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), prohibits health care discrimination on the basis of immigration status or gender identity. 

“Our state has a proud history of protecting and expanding reproductive freedom,” said Randall. “But our transgender and undocumented neighbors have faced continued discrimination and barriers to care. This bill protects the most vulnerable communities and provides access to the essential health care they need and deserve.”

The RHAA creates a state-funded program to cover family planning services for undocumented Washingtonians who would be eligible for the federal Take Charge program if not for their immigration status. It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in all reproductive health services covered by Medicaid and private insurance plans. In addition, it extends reproductive health care access requirements to student health plans.

Last year, the Senate passed Sen. Steve Hobbs’s Reproductive Parity Act (SB 6219), which required all insurance plans in Washington state that cover maternity care to also cover the full range of reproductive health services.

The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate passes legislation to create LGBTQ Commission

OLYMPIA — Legislation to create a state commission to work with state agencies to develop and implement policies to address the unique needs of the LGBTQ community passed off the Senate floor today on a 34-14 vote.

Sponsored by Sen. Claire Wilson, Senate Bill 5356 would direct the governor to appoint commissioners who present a balanced and diverse representation of race and ethnicity, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, and occupation.

“This will help members of our community whose identify puts them at extreme and disproportionate risk of violence, discrimination and other challenges,” Wilson said. “This commission can address the unique obstacles LGBTQ people encounter in everything from public school settings, to employment, to everyday interactions in our communities.”

Among other things, the commission would be directed to identify concerns specific to LGBTQ sub groups, such as LGBTQ people of color, individuals in the DD community, veterans, seniors, and many others.

You can hear Wilson’s thoughts on the need for this legislation by clicking on this short video.

Senate passes Wilson bill for comprehensive sexuality health education

Science-based, comprehensive sexuality health education would become a required component of public school curriculums, under legislation passed today by the Senate on a 28-21 vote.

“People call this sex education, but it’s about much more than sex,” said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s sponsor. “It’s about personal health, it’s about important life decisions, it’s about medical and economic consequences — all the things we want our young scholars to understand so that they can make the best choices for their health and their future.”

Senate Bill 5395 would require public schools to provide evidence-based, sexual health education curricula from a list developed by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) or from other sources that satisfy OSPI guidelines.

Among other things, the curricula must:

  • encourage healthy relationships based on mutual respect and free from violence, coercion, and intimidation;
  • teach how to identify and respond to sexually violent attitudes or behaviors; and
  • emphasize the importance of affirmative consent before engaging in sexual activity.

“Many students are sexually assaulted or coerced into having sex, or find themselves in abusive relationships,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “At its core, this bill is about safety. It’s about making sure that students have a safe place to ask questions, fully understand consent, and have the information they need to make safe decisions.”

Wilson, who is vice chair of the committee, said the curriculum does not direct teachers to instruct students on how to have sex, as has been incorrectly alleged by some; to the contrary, it is proven to reduce unintended pregnancy and STDs.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans, including parents and young people themselves, believe students should have access to comprehensive sexuality health education in middle school and high school and developmentally,” Wilson said. “Information is power. It’s time we do a better job of sharing it.”

SB 5395 would require schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students in grades 6-12 by Sept. 1, 2020, and to students in grades K-5 by Sept. 1, 2021.

Having passed the Senate, SB 5395 now goes to the House for consideration in that chamber.

Senate passes new protections for LGBTQ youth

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate today took a significant step to protect LGBTQ youth by passing legislation to ban so-called “conversion therapy” and require school districts to adopt or amend anti-harassment policies to include transgender students.

“It is long past time for Washington to make it clear to our LGBTQ youth that we value their safety and affirm that they too deserve protection as they navigate their young lives,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, sponsor of Senate 5766 and Senate Bill 5722. “I am thankful to my colleagues in the Senate for taking this stand today to put people first and make Washington more inclusive for all.”

One of the seven openly LGBTQ members of the Legislature, Liias and his colleagues have heard from countless families about the need to make our communities and schools safer for their children.

“In the last year, 29 percent of LGBTQ youth attempted suicide, leading to countless tragic deaths that might easily have been saved,” added Liias. “Banning the barbaric practice of ‘conversion therapy’ and taking active steps to reduce bullying, harassment and intimidation will literally save people’s lives.”

In addition to requiring school districts to adopt updated anti-bullying policies, SB 5766 will also create a district-level primary contact for the new measures and direct the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop mandatory anti-harassment training.

SB 5766 passed on a 30-18 vote. SB 5722 passed on a 32-16 vote. They both now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

Statement on Washington state’s commitment to a discrimination-free environment for all students

The members of the Washington State Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus jointly released the following statement on Washington’s commitment to ensuring all students have the right to a discrimination-free environment:

“Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, was both clear and firm in his statement this morning about the protections transgender students have under state law. In light of yesterday’s action by the Trump Administration, it is reassuring to know our state not only has strong anti-discrimination laws on the books, but that our state’s chief school administrator is firmly committed to upholding those laws and ensuring every student feels safe and welcome in our public schools. We join Supt. Reykdal in this commitment, and stand arm in arm with our transgender sisters and brothers, as well as with all who are working to end discrimination wherever it exists.”

Statement on the state Supreme Court’s decision in Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers

The members of the Washington State Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus jointly released the following statement on the state Supreme Court’s decision in Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers:

“This morning, our state’s highest court unanimously confirmed discrimination is always wrong. While Washington’s constitution provides strong religious freedom protections, it doesn’t permit one’s religious beliefs to violate our anti-discrimination laws. A business providing goods and services to the public doesn’t get to discriminate against some people under the guise of religious freedom. This is a victory for equality and tolerance in the state of Washington.”