California Expanding 'Perceived Gender' Discrimination Provisions

April 30, 2003 ( - Employers in California will no longer be allowed to discriminate against job applicants and renters based on "perceived gender" if a legislative proposal continues to gain approval.

The California State Assembly has approved a measure that broadens the state’s housing and employment laws to cover transsexuals, transvestites or anyone else whose sexuality is ambiguous enough not to be classified as a traditional male or female. California already outlaws similar gender-based discrimination in schools and under the state’s hate-crime laws, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report.

This year’s bill, AB 196, represents the third time proponents of the measure have attempted to expand California’s anti-discrimination laws to include individuals of an indistinct gender. The previous two attempts floundered in the state Senate after it became clear Governor Gray Davis did not want the controversial bills on his desk.

Assemblyman Mark Leno’s (D-San Francisco) bill passed 42-34 as voting clung strictly to party lines. Now headed to the state Senate, a spokesperson for Governor Davis said the governor had not taken a position on the bill, which is modeled after similar laws in Minnesota and Rhode Island, and in 20 cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The measure allows companies to keep their dress codes and grooming rules, as long as the worker is allowed to dress according to the gender he or she has chosen. Landlords and businesses that intentionally discriminate face fines up to $150,000 imposed by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission or unlimited damages if a civil lawsuit is filed, just as in race and sex discrimination cases.


Leno cautioned his colleagues from quoting from the Bible or otherwise turning the debate into one about morality. America is “not being a theocracy, ” Leno said; the only “holy” tracts referenced should be the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Republicans who spoke against the measure generally steered clear of moral arguments and focused on how businesses would handle the law. Among the quandaries they predicted are religious bookstores being forced to hire transvestites against their will and a deluge of lawsuits resulting from people switching genders in order to join a protected legal status.

“We do some real kooky things out here. Really weird stuff,” said Assemblyman Jay La Suer (R-La Mesa). “As a kid, I even heard about California, how kooky we were. But this, my friends, is making it even worse for business. Let’s not forget what message this sends to the rest of the nation but also our kids.”

However, Democratic lawmakers said the bill does little more than add gender identity to a California housing and employment law that already outlaws discrimination based on sexual preference, race, religion, creed and other protected classes.