State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) was selected as the chair of the state’s LGBT Legislative Caucus on Wednesday.
I chatted with Wiener on Thursday morning to talk about what he wants to address this year and his priorities for issues important to the LGBTQ community both in Humboldt County and across the state.
And, from the sounds of it, he will have his plate full.
“We have made so many strides in California as an LGBT community around civil rights,” he said. “But we have enormous challenges that remain.”
This year, he would like to see issues addressed relating to health care, education, homelessness and discrimination.
One area of critical importance in Humboldt County is addressing HIV and the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections.
“We have a lot of work to do around HIV,” he said. “In some areas, we have seen significant strides. In many parts of the state, it’s hard to get an HIV test. We are going to see some aggressive work this year around HIV.”
Wiener said access to testing is critical, calling it a “basic building block.”
“In San Francisco and Los Angeles, we have easy access to rapid testing,” he said. “You can get tested for STIs in 45 minutes. There are mobile testing clinics. We need to build that kind of capacity throughout the state.”
He also said he planned to reintroduce a bill that would allow safe-injection sites for intravenous drug users in San Francisco.
“While we would like that to be statewide, the bill pilots the program in San Francisco. Safe injection sites are a proven way to reduce HIV infections,” he said.
Wiener also wants to address education issues and ensure LGBTQ students have safe learning environments.
“We also have challenges in terms of our public school system,” he said. “We want to make sure LGBT students are in a positive or affirming environment. Gov. (Jerry) Brown vetoed a bill that would require training for teachers on how to educate and support LGBT students. That bill needs to happen.”
He said the bill would help the vast and diverse school districts across the state come into compliance with the FAIR Education Act, a law signed in 2011 that mandates all schools provide LGBT context in social studies curriculum. While the law was signed nearly a decade ago, many school districts — including several in Humboldt County — fail to be in compliance with it.
“What I’ve learned in my years as a legislator is that passing a law and getting it signed is just the first step,” said Wiener. “You have to make sure the law is implemented. All too often, we don’t have consistent enforcement. … We have to do better in monitoring and ensuring that schools are implementing the law.”
Another priority for Wiener is addressing issues critical for the transgender population.
“Our transgender residents face huge struggles around violence, incarceration, employment and lack of access to health care. So we’re going to focus on the needs of transgender people,” he said.
He also wants to address the coming so-called silver tsunami.
“We will see lots of work around aging,” he said. “We have a growing number of seniors. LGBT seniors have very unique needs that are at times very different from the needs of other seniors.”
Wiener hopes that continued momentum is important for how the state is viewed.
“I look forward to working with all my colleagues — both LGBT and allies — to ensure California remains a beacon of hope for our entire community, here and around the world.”
That, I must say, is a great goal.
OUTspoken prints weekly in the Times-Standard. Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.