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Toni Atkins shares her Pride: Kicking phobias to the curb of history

(Editor's note: California Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, wrote this piece exclusively for San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in celebration of San Diego Pride Week.)

It’s Pride Week in San Diego. Let’s parade, party and relish our recent successes, including the restoration of marriage equality in California. I am looking forward to attending many fabulous weddings this summer and fall.

But our work isn’t done. Thirty-seven states still treat same sex couples as second class. Our youth are still bullied and disproportionately homeless. As we age, many of our seniors are forced back into the closet in order to be accepted in senior or assisted living facilities. And it is time that our transgender brothers and sisters, the T in LGBT, are fully included in the progress of our community. Too often, this is not the case, whether it be the end of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," federal non-discrimination laws like ENDA, or even marriage. So while we revel in our success, let’s not leave anyone behind.

Transgender people often have to endure the denial of their identities in the most basic of ways. Imagine if people refused to address you by your correct name or forced you to change your clothes or use the restroom with people of the opposite sex. What if your driver's license had the wrong person listed on it? These are all real challenges for a transgender person.

Even though transgender Californians have been protected under the law from discrimination and harassment since 2004, 70% of the community reports experiencing bias, barriers and violence because of their gender identity. A study conducted by the Transgender Law Center found that respondents were twice as likely to be living in poverty. One in five reported having been homeless since they first identified as being transgender. And 30% of the community reports they have postponed medical care because of disrespect or discrimination from healthcare providers. We certainly can do better than this.

Two measures before the state legislature will improve the lives of transgender Californians. AB 1266, a bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano of which I am co-author, is the School Success and Opportunity Act. It will guarantee that California public schools respect a transgender student’s identity in all programs, facilities, and activities. Transgender students are often treated unfairly at school with respect to sex-segregated physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities and facilities. Being excluded from education that is consistent with their gender identity threatens these students’ ability to succeed with, and in some instances even complete, their public school education. AB 1266 will provide direction to schools as to how best to serve their transgender students. This bill was passed by both chambers of the state Legislature and currently awaits action by Governor Brown.

My bill AB 1121 has passed the state Assembly and is pending in the state Senate. This bill provides transgender people seeking legal name changes to reflect their gender identity with a streamlined and inexpensive process that protects their privacy. Current law requires a transgender person to obtain a court order and to publish the name change application in the newspaper. This process can be expensive and also publicly exposes the person to potential discrimination, harassment or even violence because of being transgender. AB 1121 allows the transgender person to avoid the public notice and court process by applying directly to the state Office of Vital Records for a name change.

Thanks to recent strides, we can see a future free of homophobia. Let’s also work to make transphobia a relic of the past.