Metro Weekly

Sacramento Is Now a Sanctuary City for Transgender People

Resolution seeks to protect people fleeing states with bans on gender-affirming care and prevent them from being extradited for prosecution.

Sign welcoming visitors to Sacramento, California. – Photo: Wellesenterprises, via Dreamstime.

Sacramento, California, has been designated a “sanctuary city” for transgender individuals.

Last week, the Sacramento City Council approved a resolution ensuring that city resources — including law enforcement resources — are not used to aid in out-of-state prosecutions of people who come to California seeking out gender-affirming mental health care, hormone therapy, or surgery.

The resolution prohibits city funds from being used to cooperate with any individuals or out-of-state agencies who are investigating people for pursuing treatments that are legal in California.

That means city law enforcement officials should not detain, imprison, or extradite transgender people who have traveled to California seeking out gender-affirming care to their home states, where they could potentially be prosecuted.

Under the resolution, Sacramento police officers are still allowed to investigate suspected criminal activity, but — because gender-affirming care is not criminalized in California — are barred from providing out-of-state agencies or individuals with information about the identities or personal medical information of people seeking out gender-affirming care.

Officials found in violation of the sanctuary law will face “corrective action,” though it is unclear what that specifically entails.

Similar “sanctuary city” proposals have been adopted in various cities and states, especially in more liberal-leaning areas of the country, in response to a host of Republican-led state laws banning transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming health treatments.

In some states, law enforcement officials are expected to pursue lawbreakers, including potentially asking for them to be extradited back to those states for prosecution.

Sacramento City Council Member Katie Valenzuela described the resolution as a “strengthening measure,” as it builds upon California’s existing “shield law,” which prohibits law enforcement from assisting out-of-state entities in prosecuting people who seek out reproductive health care or gender-affirming treatments.

“This is the sort of thing that you hope is never necessary,” Valenzuela said. “You hope it never gets triggered. That there’s never anyone coming to Sac who is potentially fleeing law enforcement for the sole reason of looking for health care.”

At the same time, she noted, “This is more than just protecting the people who live here. This is also about protecting people who come here from other communities to ensure that we’re not aiding law enforcement activities in their home jurisdiction who may seek to criminalize their quest for health care.”

Prior to the vote, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg expressed optimism that the sanctuary resolution would not face opposition. It ultimately passed by unanimous vote. 

“We debate the many issues in our city, but there’s no shade of gray when it comes to civil rights,” Steinberg said. “And when it comes to talking about the human rights of people, our city is consistent and we’re strong.”

Supporters of the resolution say they believe it will soon be necessary as Republican-led legislatures increasingly ratchet up their fight against transgender visibility and transgender people’s ability to access care.

So far, statewide bans on gender-affirming care have been limited in their scope, but advocates say it’s only a matter of time before some states adopt laws to prosecute individuals, such as parents of transgender minors, who seek out gender-affirming services elsewhere.

That, in turn, could place a burden on local law enforcement, who may face demands from out-of-state officials to arrest and extradite individuals who have crossed state lines to receive gender-affirming care.

“We can expect laws criminalizing out-of-state healthcare in the very near future,” says Emily Smet, an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America and one of the people who helped draft the resolution’s language. “And in Sacramento, we want to be prepared for that.”

Smet told the Los Angeles Times that passing the resolution is only one step that the city needs to take to support trans refugees fleeing states with bans on gender-affirming care. She noted that a disproportionate number of transgender people experience poverty and housing insecurity.

Eric Stanley, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, criticized the resolution as a form of virtue-signaling, telling the Times that the city has failed to address the basic needs of people who come to California from states that are hostile to transgender individuals.

He said the problem is that by holding out Sacramento as a “safe space” for the trans community, some people may mistakenly believe it is easier to access gender-affirming health care, unaware of how costly that care can be.

He said the resolution is “more or less a political stunt,” because it assumes people fleeing other states have middle- or upper-middle-class incomes that will allow them to absorb and withstand the higher costs of living in California.  

David Heitstuman, the director of the Sacramento LGBTQ Community Center, said that while the resolution is a positive step, the city needs to invest in basic services like housing.

The center provides some transitional housing for LGBTQ youth facing homelessness, but that does not resolve the larger problem. 

“Even though we have a progressive policy on the books at a statutory level, we need to ensure that there is more…access to services, access to care,” he said. “There’s certainly a mismatch between what the law says and what people are actually experiencing in the world, even here in California.”

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