A California state senator introduced a bill Monday night to repeal a law commonly known as “walking while trans” that advocates say has led to decades of discrimination against the transgender community, particularly Black and brown trans women.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat representing San Francisco and neighboring areas, drafted SB 357, which would overturn the “loitering for purpose of prostitution” law.
When California’s current anti-loitering code went into effect in 1995, the intention was to make it easier to arrest a person before they engaged in sex work, Wiener said.
Much of these decisions were left to the discretion of police officers, which advocates say has led to wrongful arrests. Citing a study from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, Wiener found Black adults accounted for 56.1% of all charges related to this anti-loitering law, despite making up only 8.9% of Los Angeles’ population.
“This is one of those laws based exclusively on stereotypes and profiling,” Wiener told CNN. “You don’t have to actually do anything to commit this crime. This is based on how you look and how you’re acting.”
If the bill passes, California would follow in the footsteps of New York, which repealed its own version of the law last month.
When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, he said in a subsequent statement it was “one example of the ugly undercurrents of injustices that transgender New Yorkers – especially those of color – face simply for walking down the street.”
Wiener said he was thrilled when New York repealed the law – and he hopes people who aren’t members of the transgender community will also realize how problematic the statute is with regard to basic freedoms.
“It’s just a horrible law, and it’s really un-American,” Wiener said. “If you are a woman and you are dressed in tight or revealing clothing and you’re in an area where sex work is known to happen, some police officer might decide you are loitering for the purposes of prostitution and arrest you.”
Equality California, which says it’s helped pass over 150 state bills and resolutions advancing civil rights for LGBTQ+ people, supports the legislation.
“All LGBTQ+ people deserve to exist without fear of harassment and violence, which is why we are proud to support SB 357,” Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin said in a statement.
Bamby Salcedo, president of the Los Angeles-based TransLatin@ Coalition, says this legislation would help bring an end to some of the multi-faceted levels of oppression faced by her community.
“I do know many trans women who have been arrested after just walking down the street or hanging out with their friends,” Salcedo said. “It’s like a double-edged sword. We experience both institutional and interpersonal violence.”
Wiener’s sponsor bill memo says that the criminalization of sex has failed to make communities safer.
“Most criminal penalties for sex workers, loitering laws included, do nothing to stop sex crimes against sex workers and human trafficking. People engaged in sex work deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” the memo says.
A trans sex worker of color based in San Diego, who goes by the name “TS Jane,” told CNN she hopes the passage of this bill is a first step toward a future where sex work is decriminalized altogether. She’s been organizing on behalf of sex workers’ rights for the past four years.
“With this law being repealed we can live in a community where we can be ourselves – walk, flaunt, and strut on the streets however we want – and not be criminalized for merely existing,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the Los Angeles-based transgender advocacy organization. It is TransLatin@ Coalition.