California health care workers who “willfully and repeatedly” decline to use a senior transgender patient's “preferred name or pronouns” could face punishments ranging from a fine to jail time under a newly signed law.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation last week.
The sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, has argued adamantly that nobody is going to be criminally prosecuted for using the wrong pronoun.
“It’s just more scare tactics by people who oppose all LGBT civil rights and protections,” he said in a statement last month.
But the language seemingly allows for the possibility, however remote.
The bill itself is aimed at protecting transgender and other LGBT individuals in hospitals, retirement homes and assisted living facilities. The bill would ensure those facilities accommodate transgender people and their needs, including letting them decide which gender-specific bathroom they prefer to use.
"It shall be unlawful for a long-term care facility or facility staff to take any of the following actions wholly or partially on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status," the bill reads.
Among the unlawful actions are “willfully and repeatedly” failing to use a transgender person’s “preferred name or pronouns” after he or she is “clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.”
The law states that if provisions are violated, the violator could be punished by a fine “not to exceed one thousand dollars” or “by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed one year,” or both.
Wiener's office noted that violations for residential care facilities under existing law rarely resulted in criminal charges, especially for minor violations. Criminal penalties are meant more for violations that expose a patient to risk of death or serious harm, his office said.
Wiener’s office noted that the law “does not create any new criminal provisions,” but rather creates “new rights within an existing structure.”
One opponent of the law, the California Family Council's Greg Burt, slammed the measure when the bill was in its early stages.
“How can you believe in free speech, but think the government can compel people to use certain pronouns when talking to others?” he said to the California Assembly Judiciary Committee in August, according to CBN News.