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Toni Atkins bill passes; beefs up job, housing and other nondiscrimination laws

SACRAMENTO -- The California state Senate today passed the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887) in a vote of 25-13.

The bill is authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and is sponsored by Equality California, Transgender Law Center and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

The California state Assembly voted 54-24 on May 16 to approve the bill, which now goes to the Governor's Office.

AB 887 seeks to strengthen employment, housing, and other civil rights protections for all Californians, particularly those who face discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

"AB 887 protects all Californians. No matter your skin color, your age, where you come from or whether you're gay, straight, or transgender, we are all protected by the same rights," Atkins said. "We share equal protection in employment, housing, and education. This bill ensures that no one is left out."

While California anti-discrimination laws already define "gender" to include a person's gender identity and gender expression, AB 887 explicitly enumerates gender identity and expression as protected categories in a number of state codes to provide clarity to those who are victims of unlawful discrimination as well as for business owners, employers and other entities required to comply with the anti-discrimination protections.

"All hardworking people in California, including transgender people, should have an equal opportunity to earn a living and provide for their families," said Roland Palencia, executive director for Equality California. "No one should have to live in fear of being fired from a job or denied housing simply because of who they are. This bill reduces the harm from discrimination and the costs associated with litigation. We thank Assemblymember Atkins for authoring this important piece of legislation."

In 2009, the Transgender Law Center released its "State of Transgender California" report. The report revealed overwhelmingly that Californians who experience discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression at work or elsewhere often times do not file complaints because they are unaware that they are protected by non-discrimination laws.

"California has been fortunate to have laws protecting our workers and students from discrimination for several years," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. "Unfortunately those rights have been hidden, making it hard for employees to know they are protected and for employers to know their responsibilities. The Gender Nondiscrimination Act brings our rights out of the closet and brings California one step closer to achieving its potential."

More than 100 cities across America and hundreds of employers already provide clear non-discrimination protections based on gender identity and gender expression. Cities that list them as separate protected categories in non-discrimination ordinances include San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Oakland and West Hollywood.

"All students deserve to be safe and free of discrimination in their schools," said Carolyn Laub, Gay-Straight Alliance Network executive director. "The Gender Nondiscrimination Act ensures that confusing legal wording will no longer stand between California's transgender and gender-nonconforming students and their right to a safe learning environment."