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Last week, California lawmakers passed a bill that would launch a pilot program focused on tracking the gender identity and sexual orientation of victims of violent deaths.
The bill, which was approved overwhelmingly by both chambers, now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is expected to sign it into law.
Under the bill, the California Department of Public Health will establish a three-year pilot program in up to six counties that agree to participate, from various regions of the state — including urban, rural, and suburban communities — that will teach coroners and medical examiners how to identify and compile information about a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity in cases of violent death, including suicides, homicides, and instances involving deadly use of force by police.
Once they receive training, the coroner or medical examiner would begin collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity, and would aggregate and annually report the data to the board of supervisors and the department. During data collection, all personally identifiable information, including names, addresses, and dates of birth, would be removed before being reported.
“There is a lack of understanding about the relationship between risk of violent death, such as suicide or homicide, and an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity,” the bill’s text reads. “This is because, unlike veteran status or ethnicity, the sexual orientation and gender identity of deceased individuals are only captured in special circumstances.
“By training coroners and medical examiners how to gather mortality data with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, researchers and policymakers can begin to learn who the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community are and allocate resources that will reduce the number of preventable deaths.”
Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), the sponsor of the bill in the lower chamber, and an emergency department position by trade, said he believes collecting this type of data could eventually help combat instances of anti-LGBTQ violence by identifying trends or patterns and taking proper steps to intervene before violence occurs.
“I believe AB 1094 is an important and humane step in ultimately preventing these deaths. Data may sound like a scientific subject, but, at its core, it leads us to better help and serve all our communities with compassion and empathy,” Arambula said in a statement.
“We must have better data to understand the scope of what’s happening in our LGBTQ community — especially among the youth — when it comes to violent deaths, including homicide and suicide. This information will be a crucial guidepost to prevention efforts and saving lives.”
The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, praised the bill, noting that there currently isn’t much data on how many LGBTQ youth commit suicide each year because coroners and medical examiners are often not collecting that information when determining a cause of death.
However, data from the National Institutes of Health shows that suicide remains the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24 nationwide, and past studies have indicated LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight or cisgender counterparts.
“The first of its kind in the nation, this bill marks an important milestone in the movement to protect and save LGBTQ lives,” Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“There is a critical need to track cases of suicide, homicide, and police brutality among the LGBTQ community, allowing us to better understand these crises, respond more effectively with solutions, and help prevent future tragedies.
“We thank all the sponsors and advocates for championing this historic bill in California and hope that decision-makers across the country take note of this pilot program to model it in their respective communities.”
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