Fighting for a more equitable California


On May 16, a contingent from San Francisco AIDS Foundation visited our State Capitol to advocate for a handful of priority Senate bills addressing issues affecting our community. LGBT Advocacy Day, organized by Equality California, brought together advocates, members of the California legislature and community members. Over 250 people from across California participated in the day, visiting over 100 legislative offices.

“A lot of times, people may think—it’s 2017. We have marriage equality. There’s not a lot for our caucus to do. And that’s just false. We know there is still enormous work to do for our community. Particularly, to help move forward some of our most marginalized LGBT people,” said Senator Scott Weiner at the event.

Advocates spoke during a rally about the importance of supporting bills to:

  • - Modernize HIV criminalization laws (SB 239),

  • - Allow transgender, intersex and non-binary people to obtain state-issued identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity (SB 179),

  • - Help transgender people in prison or jail legally change their name or gender marker (SB 310), and

  • - Prevent local and state law enforcement from using resources to help federal immigration enforcement (SB 54).

Then, participants of LGBT Advocacy Day met with assembly members from across the state to explain their support for the proposed bills. Federico Guzman went to Sacramento to support SB 239, which would modernize outdated HIV criminalization laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.

“These laws are outdated,” he said. “We have to move them to the future. It’s important for us to come together as a community to change them. We need to fight for what we need.”

“I think it’s really important to fight for good causes,” said Terrance Wilder, program coordinator of the DREAAM Project, a program of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, who attended Advocacy Day to support SB 239. “Right now, it’s illegal to have sex and not disclose your status if you’re HIV-positive. As far as transmission goes, there are all of these new medicines and other strategies to prevent the transmission of HIV now. These laws definitely need to change. People should not be criminalized for having sex.”

Ms. Billie Cooper, one of the founders of TransLife, another program of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, also came out to support SB 239. “California needs to stop the criminalization of people living with HIV and AIDS. We need to give a voice to all my sisters and brothers who feel like they don’t have a voice,” she said.

She also came to support SB 179, which would make California the first state to give citizens a third gender identity choice in addition to “male” or “female” on state-issued identification documents.   

Robert Mitchell, a long-time volunteer for BBE of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, explained to representatives about one problem of current HIV criminalization laws. The issue with current laws is that they discourage people from getting tested and knowing their status, he said. People worry that the more they know—the more they’re responsible. 

“Our messages were well received [by the assembly members]. People wanted to know more. We gave a little bit of insight in terms of what we’ve seen in the community,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell said that he has never advocated for particular legislature at the State Capitol before, but that the experience was worthwhile and empowering.

“It felt wonderful for [lawmakers] to take an interest in these—my—issues.  To allow me to voice what is in my heart and what is in the community, it meant the world. It definitely felt like I was being heard. These are people that are on the level that can do something about these issues. And they were asking me, personally, what changes would I like to see?” he said.

Overall, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation group was invigorated by the challenge of advocating for causes important to them.

“It’s a totally exciting day for me to be here,” said Guzman. “This was important for LGBT people.”

Michael Stoutmire, who also came out to support SB 239, said it was helpful for him to become more informed about issues affecting his community. “I can put myself in someone else’s shoes, he said. And think, what if I was in that situation [of being prosecuted under an HIV criminalization law]. This was absolutely an important day for me to be involved in.”

“Here’s what I live by, said Mitchell. “You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. If you’re doing something, you’re moving us forward. You’re doing all you can for yourself, for your family, for your community and for the entire world.”

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