Governor Schwarzenegger Creates Harvey Milk Day While Rejecting Trans Rights

You may have heard that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law a bill that will create a Harvey Milk Day, honoring the slain gay politician and icon. It’s the first time that any LGBT person has been honored in such a way, so obviously people are excited about the symbolism.

What has been receiving some blog coverage but little mainstream media attention, however, is the fact that at the same time Schwarzenegger signed this bill, he vetoed a couple of others — one which would have made it easier for transgender people born in California to correct their birth certificates to the proper gender and name, and another which would have helped to combat sexual violence against LGBT prisoners.

With regards to the former, a birth certificate is probably the most important piece of identification that any of us have. While it’s not used on a daily basis, it’s often the document on which our other pieces of identification are based, though most of us who are cis have the privilege and luxury of not thinking about it. When a trans person’s identification does not match their identity, it sets them up for being outed against their will — and subsequently creates a large risk of them being accused of fraud, harassed, denied basic services and care, and/or violently attacked. The bill would have made the difficult process of correcting the document just a tiny bit easier — and by the way, wouldn’t have cost taxpayers anything.

The latter piece of vetoed legislation, Schwarzenegger called “unnecessary.” But unnecessary to whom? It’s really rather well known that LGBT prisoners face hugely disproportionate sexual violence in prisons, a place where rape already runs rampant. This is especially so for cis gay and bisexual men, who are regularly targeted for prison rape, and for trans women, who are often placed wrongly in men’s prisons and thus put at extreme risk for sexual violence from cis inmates. The only way the governor does not know this is if he’s willfully ignorant on matters over which he’s supposed to be governing. And so to say that it’s unnecessary for sexual orientation and gender identity to be taken into account when deciding how to safely house prisoners is outrageously callous, and a massive slap across the face to those LGBT inmates who have been or will be sexually assaulted by assailants targeting them for their identities.

I’d also say that it’s an additional slap that he chose to veto these two pieces of legislation on the same day that he signed the bill creating Harvey Milk Day. Yes, it’s true that he also signed two important pieces of legislation — one recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages in California, and one increasing resources for LGBT victims of domestic violence. And I also fully support a Harvey Milk Day. But signing that bill while rejecting these others, and especially at the same time, seems a pretty clear message that Schwarzenegger values symbolism over substantial change. One bill might possibly change the curriculum in certain classrooms for a single day each year, and the others would have helped to remove some of the most marginalized people that day is supposed to honor from particularly dangerous situations. There has been a clear designation of priorities, here — and it has apparently been decided, horrifically if not surprisingly, that the particularly vulnerable groups of LGBT prisoners and transgender people in general don’t really count.

I honestly don’t know enough about Harvey Milk to say with certainty, but from what I do know, I’d at least like to think that he’d be deeply offended. And regardless of what he would have thought, disgust and outrage are clearly in order from the rest of us.

For more, see Monica at Transgriot.

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19 comments for “Governor Schwarzenegger Creates Harvey Milk Day While Rejecting Trans Rights

  1. Willow
    October 15, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    …And [cis, of course] white men represent the face of the entire LGBT population yet again.

    Way to go.

  2. Amanda in the South Bay
    October 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Lets not forget Arnold’s vetoing two marriage equality bills a few years back, leading to the mess around Prop 8.

    I was pretty upset that Andrew “I have a lot of respect I shouldn’t have from a lot of LGBT pundits” Sullivan said that Arnold has a better record on gay rights than Obama because of this. Cis privilege indeed.

  3. PrettyAmiable
    October 15, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    My only question re: the birth certificate deal – does anyone know how that legislation was worded? I’m wondering if accepting that piece of legislation would somehow make it easier for the criminal portion of California’s population to abuse the system. I.e. whether the way the legislation was worded in such a way that would also open the system up to more identity fraud, or make individuals who currently perform identity fraud have an easier time at it.

    I guess I’m wondering how the piece was worded and if it were reworded differently to prevent something like the above, whether the governor would still veto it. I don’t see an explanation of why anywhere.

    Even the use of “unnecessary” is a little unclear. Lots of why questions.

    • October 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm


      The reason you cite up above is a common excuse for why anything regarding transgender protections shouldn’t be passed. Really, anything that allows trans people to be publicly recognized as their correct genders is shouted down with “but criminals! they will abuse it!” So, knowing that, I wouldn’t doubt that it’s the excuse. Secondly, knowing that, and knowing that transgender groups in CA supported the bill, I imagine they would have been very, very careful about the wording for that very reason. Lastly, everything I’ve read says that the person who wants to change their birth certificate must have undergone GRS, which is a huge hurdle, period, and one that many trans people don’t even want to jump. If anything, the bill was far too restrictive, not the other way around.

  4. Amanda in the South Bay
    October 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    pretty amiable:
    Can you find me one documented instance of a criminal taking advantage of gender related identity regulations to commit fraud?

  5. A.W.
    October 15, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Okay, so – I still can’t get my birth cert. changed. (was born in Cali, don’t live there now). The verdict, well, I’m…not surprised. Schwarzenegger has no clue how often people have to use ID’s, apparently.


    You know what’s more important than that little sex checkbox to ID people who’re trying to scam the system? Social security numbers. Those don’t change, and suggesting a possible criminal will run out and change their sex marker to get around things is ludicrous at best. A damned ‘F’ does fuck all but out me to strangers. For that matter, photos themselves often don’t resemble the actual person in question. You might as well wonder why they have pictures on the damn things, I know I do.

    • October 15, 2009 at 11:48 pm

      A.W., it’s my understanding that there was a court ruling that allows for people in your situation to make the change — the purpose of the bill was to fully clarify that ruling, enshrine it in legislation to lessen hassle from all the various counties, and to make it easier for people who need to use it to find out about it. Again, that’s my understanding from a few blog posts I’ve read. Those sources could be wrong, but I thought I’d mention it as it might be worth looking into.

  6. Just Some Trans Guy
    October 16, 2009 at 9:01 am

    “I guess I’m wondering how the piece was worded and if it were reworded differently to prevent something like the above, whether the governor would still veto it. I don’t see an explanation of why anywhere.

    Even the use of ‘unnecessary’ is a little unclear. Lots of why questions.”

    Because trans lives aren’t worth jack-all to cis people. There might be a lot of prettier language that dances around this, but that’s the “why.”

  7. October 16, 2009 at 10:48 am

    A.W. You too ‘eh? **sighs**

    Pretty: the bill was written to amend the behavior of the already established procedure for people who have had GRS to have their birth certificate changed. Current law says that you have to file for the BC change in the county in which you live, but Tennessee doesn’t allow for BC changes at all, and so I don’t trust my chances of succeeding. The proposed change would allow for people to appeal for their BC change in the county in which they were born. No downside other than having to reprint a few forms (couple thousand dollars at very most, and it can likely just be changed and then run out the existing forms)

  8. Amanda in the South Bay
    October 16, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I certainly didn’t mean otherwise. I was mocking the idea of criminals taking advantage of rules that allow trans people to change their identities-a small amount of transphobic concern trolling.

    The court ruling Cara is referring to is this:

  9. PrettyAmiable
    October 16, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    …I explained I didn’t have all the facts and was asking for more information on it so I can try to understand why that decision was made. I think birth certificates for transgendered individuals should be changed to reflect themselves more accurately (because if mine does, everyone should have that right), but I don’t think ANY piece of poorly written legislation should be passed.

    That said, Cara and polerin, thank you for the piece re: GRS and the more detailed description of the bill, respectively. That is an example of the information I did not have when asking my questions. An individual would have to be stupid to think that a criminal would go through GRS simply to perform criminal activities. If that is included in the legislation, then I cannot imagine why that kind of bill would not be passed.

    Amanda: I didn’t say anything about this being a problem historically. Additionally, I didn’t say anything about criminals using gender to commit identity fraud. Again, because of a lack of information THAT I ACKNOWLEDGED, it’s possible the bill was worded in such a way that any information on a birth certificate could be changed. Further, even if I could/could not find an example in history, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.

  10. bent
    October 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    re: the prison legislation

    i know some people, especially prisoners in women’s facilities who are LGBT, were against that bill, and that the sponsoring member of the state congress and the main lobby group behind it didn’t want to hear any criticism. it seemed like the the sponsor was more interested in having his name attached to a piece of legislation than being interested in the welfare of LGBT and gender non-conforming prisoners. i believe that the gov’s reasoning of it being “unnecessary” is because most of the provisions in it were already included in another law that was passed a few years ago, SADEA, the California Sexual Abuse in Detention Elimination Act.

    it would be interesting for Feministe to showcase a piece from folks who felt that Ammiano’s bill was not the right way to address safety issues for LGBT prisoners in California.

    • October 16, 2009 at 4:36 pm

      I haven’t seen any such opposition to the bill, Bent, but if you’ve got sources or contact information, please do feel free to pass it along.

  11. Amanda in the South Bay
    October 16, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    i know some people, especially prisoners in women’s facilities who are LGBT, were against that bill
    So, cis women not caring if trans women are killed and raped cause they are stuck in men’s prisons? Big fucking surprise.

  12. A.W.
    October 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Actually, Amanda, I just caught that mistake – I typo’d your name from Amiable’s, sorry about that. I’d rather they didn’t base change of sex on grs, though, that still leaves most people out in the cold.

  13. A.W.
    October 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    ….for that matter, not everyone can get hormones, either. Hell, you might not even want them. And I just love of Cali’s vague in their amending restrictions, oh-yes-I-do. Need a physician documenting gender reassignment, according to their own wording. That can be damn near – everything -, although last I knew they meant grs. Still sucks.

  14. PrettyAmiable
    October 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    AW, in that case, please read my second comment regarding my acknowledgment of how I haven’t read the bill and didn’t know if it opened up other ways (including things like birthday) to commit fraud. Which was actually also acknowledged in my first comment. I am absolutely not willing to be crucified for asking for more information.

  15. A.W.
    October 16, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Oh, for the love of… Critical is not crucifixion. If you want ‘crucifixion’ (horrible word choice there, by the way. Very inflammatory) go to a trans centered blog and retype your first post. I was being polite and didn’t type my first few thoughts on your musings. And if you don’t know anything about an issue, best not wonder excuses aloud in favor of the majority. If you scroll up, you’ll also see that when I replied to you, it was before your second post. Which doesn’t matter, because your second post was a repeat of your first one, which yes, I was aware that you didn’t, in fact, know much of anything about how this stuff works. Having a cis person suggest that it possibly wasn’t passed because the wording might possibly help people commit crime is patently ridiculous, especially when they admit they know nothing about it.

    The short version – your ass was showing. It isn’t asking for more information that I found horrible, it was the suggestion that vetoing the bill was ‘benign’. The ‘helping criminals’ excuse is rampant for getting document changing passed, by and large, and for a population that really doesn’t like us I find it odd that a lot of people think their fellow cis people are going to run and make use of those services in the wider world. It’s a gigantic scare tactic.

  16. Just Some Trans Guy
    October 17, 2009 at 9:49 am


    Here’s info on the bill, which I got from googling “AB 1185” and looking at the first page of results:

    As you can see, the legislation text is exceptionally short. It would not effect California law any further than extending to Californian-born residents of other states the same rights that Californians currently possess.

    And you’re not being “crucified.” You’re certainly not being crucified because you asked a question. You’re getting the response you’re getting because, while acknowledging that you don’t know about this and that you didn’t bother to look for the bill text yourself, you trotted out a really old, transphobic trope that I daresay that almost all trans people are familiar with. A trope that is used over and over and over to DENY US OUR RIGHTS.

    We are constantly being told that our identities, our very lives, are not as important as the basically non-existent chance that some cis people will abuse a law, somehow, some way, that would WITHOUT DOUBT allow us to live a bit safer and with a bit more dignity. In short, what I said above: Trans lives aren’t worth jack-all to cis people.

    And yes, I do find that offensive. I find it very offensive that the slim possibility of cis misdeeds is seen as a valid reason to yank essential protections away from trans people. It is no more a valid reason than the possibility a man might force his wife to get an abortion is a valid reason to yank away legal abortion.

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