- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

SACRAMENTO, Calif. California legislators appear likely this summer to become the first in the nation to pass a bill outlawing discrimination against transsexuals, drag queens, effeminate men, "butch" women and anyone else who doesn't manifest common sex traits and behavior.

But they're not sure Democratic Gov. Gray Davis will sign it, and he's not saying.

Backers of the measure, which has passed the state Assembly and a key state Senate committee, say it is intended mainly to protect women whose bosses want them to act more "feminine" and less aggressively.

Meanwhile, conservative lawmakers ridicule the bill as one that would force employers to hire men in dresses and women with myriad visible body piercings. They say it could threaten the state's economy.

They also warn it could affect both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the YMCA and even religious bookstores uncomfortable with hiring people of uncertain or changing sex.

The conservatives' main hope for stopping the bill is a veto by Mr. Davis, who nixed a more sweeping version last year. Eliminated in this year's edition is a requirement that businesses hire qualified cross-dressers. The current bill also allows courts to decide at which point transsexuals could be forced to adopt clothing appropriate to their new sex.

A final vote by the state Senate could come at any time in the next two months, sending the bill to Mr. Davis, who has signed a 1999 bill giving health benefits to same-sex couples when one of the partners is a state employee.

"This would turn the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' into California labor law," warns Republican Assemblyman Ken Maddox. "This is essentially designed to create anarchy for the people of California."

Not so, says the measure's chief sponsor, Democratic Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg. "All this does is add gender-appearance discrimination to sex discrimination in the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act," she argues. Ms. Goldberg, a lesbian, represented the Hollywood area home to a large homosexual populace on the Los Angeles City Council until forced out by term limits last year. While on the City Council, she sponsored several similar local ordinances.

Her measure expands the definition of "sex" in the existing law to include appearance and behavior "different from that traditionally associated with a person's sex at birth."

Ms. Goldberg softened her bill before the Senate's Judiciary Committee voted on it by agreeing to an amendment allowing dress and grooming codes "consistent with state and federal law," which she said essentially means employers can set standards if they wish. If no standards are set, they would not be permitted to discriminate.

Her bill also has been amended to require that workers notify employers of their sexual identity or pending change before any claim of sex-based discrimination could be made.

That's not enough to satisfy business groups like the California Chamber of Commerce and the state's Manufacturers and Technology Association. They oppose the measure because, they say, it uses fuzzy words like "perception," "identity," "appearance" and "behavior."

"These things are very hard to measure objectively," said Willie Washington, a lobbyist for the manufacturers' group.

Some conservative groups call the measure the "transsexual drag queen bill," and label it this year's most threatening proposed California law. "We have sympathy for people who are really confused about their gender," testified Art Croney of the Committee on Moral Concerns. "But they don't need affirmation at the expense of employers and schoolchildren."

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