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Attorney General Bonta Urges California Supreme Court to Uphold Anti-Discrimination Protections for LGBTQ Long-Term Care Residents

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed a brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents of retirement communities, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities across the state. Enacted under Senate Bill 219 (SB 219), California’s protections prohibit staff at such facilities from discriminating against transgender residents by willfully and repeatedly failing to use their preferred names or pronouns after being clearly informed of them. As common sense and basic decency suggest, and as study after study has shown: Deliberate misgendering can be demeaning, cruel, and deeply traumatizing. It is especially troubling when transgender seniors are deliberately misgendered by the staff entrusted to be their caretakers and healthcare providers. In the brief filed today, Attorney General Bonta urges the court to reverse an appellate decision invalidating SB 219’s bar on willful, repeated misgendering.

“Every person deserves respect, and no one should have to endure discrimination in their own home,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “SB 219 protects LGBTQ seniors from repeated, willful harassment in the long-term care facilities where they live. It is part and parcel of California’s efforts to stand against discrimination and with our LGBTQ community. I urge the California Supreme Court to reject this meritless challenge to the law.”

“Transgender seniors in nursing homes are among the most marginalized members of our community,” said California State Senator Scott Wiener. “They deserve to live with dignity and respect, not in a bullying environment, which is why I authored Senate Bill 219. California is deeply committed to supporting our LGBTQ seniors, and I’m grateful to Attorney General Bonta and his team for defending this core value.”

"California seniors deserve to age with dignity and respect — and repeatedly and intentionally deadnaming and misgendering someone is abusive harassment, plain and simple," said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. "We are grateful to Attorney General Bonta for urging the Court to uphold California’s common-sense law and not allow discrimination and abuse of the most vulnerable members of our communities. And we are proud to continue standing with the trans community and Senator Wiener in this fight for justice for all LGBTQ+ elders.”

In 2017, the Legislature collected and considered evidence that LGBTQ residents in long-term care facilities — typically seniors — are highly vulnerable and often subjected to discrimination. For example, in a 2011 nationwide study by the National Senior Citizens Law Center, 43% of respondents reported personally witnessing or experiencing instances of mistreatment of LGBTQ seniors in a long-term care facility, including “being refused admission or readmission, being abruptly discharged, verbal or physical harassment from staff, staff refusal to accept medical power of attorney from the resident’s spouse or partner, discriminatory restrictions on visitation, and staff refusal to refer to a transgender resident by his or her preferred name or pronoun[s].” Accordingly, SB 219 bars discrimination against residents of long-term care facilities “wholly or partially on the basis of [the resident’s] actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or [HIV] status.” Since SB 219’s enactment, long-term care facilities across California have moved to comply, training their staff members on how to provide the care and respect to which LGBTQ residents are lawfully entitled. The appellate court disrupted that progress by erroneously calling into question the validity of SB 219’s misgendering provision. Following the appellate decision, the Attorney General subsequently filed a petition for review, which was granted by the California Supreme Court in November 2021. 

In the brief filed before the California Supreme Court, Attorney General Bonta argues:

  • SB 219’s bar on willful, repeated misgendering is constitutionally valid;
  • Both the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have made clear that the government may validly prohibit verbal discrimination in the workplace because no one should be forced to endure discriminatory abuse in their place of work;
  • In much the same way, LGBTQ residents of long-term care facilities should not be forced to endure verbal discrimination in the facilities where they live; and
  • The Court of Appeal erred in holding SB 219's misgendering provision unlawful, threatening to leave transgender seniors vulnerable to abuse at long-term care facilities.

A copy of the brief is available here.