Nobody has stronger pro-trans laws than California, and the story belongs to many.


Once we achieve success our recollections can grow sketchy.  We don’t forget the heroes.  We often forget those who prepared the way for them.  That’s as true for trans rights in California as any other civil rights movement.  When we think about trans rights in California names like Theresa Sparks, Mark Leno, and Toni Atkins resonate with importance, and their pivotal actions are well deserved of recognition.  But their work built upon the work of others we don’t often think about.  Some died in obscurity.  Some ended in disgrace.  But many kinds of people contributed to trans rights over the years.

On August 3, 2003, Governor Gray Davis signed AB 196 into law, making California the 4th State to recognize the civil rights of transgender people after Minnesota (1994), Rhode Island (2003), and New Mexico (2003).  This law didn’t come about from a yearlong effort or even work over couple of years.  This culminated after more than a decade of efforts by many people in a state in which transgender people had risen up against mistreatment before the Stonewall Uprising in New York City on June 28, 1969 that launched the LGBT rights movement we know today.

Los Angeles faced the Cooper’s Donut Shop Protest in May 1959.  Though arrests targeted notably gay people during this spontaneous protest, drag queens frequented Cooper’s Donuts and police action against them erupted into protest.  At that time, Californians didn’t distinguish between gay and transgender.  San Francisco would also faced the Compton Cafeteria Riot in 1966.  A monument marks the area in which this pre-Stonewall initiated a localized effort for transgender rights.  Theresa Sparks, Police Commissioner during the dedication of this monument, testified concerning how far transgender people had come in over 40 years.

Larry Brinkin joined the San Francisco Human Rights Commission in 1989 and eventually became the Acting Coordinator of the Lesbian/Gay and AIDS/HIV Unit. After more than 5 years Mr. Brinkin had processed 40 complaints relating to discrimination against transpeople in the areas of employment and public accommodations.1

Shelley Elvira Salieri, a transsexual woman, had succeeded in becoming a civil advocate and pro bono legislative advocate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She co-authored Proposition L, which granted employment rights, protection and security to transgender employees of the City and County of San Francisco.  She took part in the medical education program of the University of California, San Francisco, familiarizing first year medical students with the needs of transgender patients.2

San Francisco’s electorate passed this same Proposition L in November 1993.  Passage of this ordinance laid the groundwork for another practice:  that the City and County of San Francisco may deny a contract to any entity against whom a discrimination lawsuit was pending with respect to a transgender person.  However, to this writer’s knowledge, San Francisco has never actually acted upon this provision.

A September 1994 investigation by the Human Rights Commission represented a turning point in San Francisco civil rights practices because it came about shortly after passage of Proposition L.  Larry Brinkin, who authored Investigation Into Discrimination Against Transgendered People with transman Jamison Green, stated:

“… hiring managers often decide immediately not to hire someone if he or she is transgendered, (sic) but that this is difficult to prove. He cited one case, however, in which another employee told him that the manager explicitly stated he would not hire a pre-operative transsexual, though the applicant was fully qualified. Through the Commission’s intervention, the applicant secured a position in a different office in the same company.”

“Mr. Brinkin cited the case of Michelle, an experienced medical technician who had won numerous awards. When she began her transition from male to female, she was harassed on the job; eventually her employer, calling her a sinner and a pervert, fired her.

“During the course of Mr. Brinkin’s investigation into Michelle’s complaints, she committed suicide.

“Mr. Brinkin urged the City to add gender identity to San Francisco’s human rights ordinances.

“Mr. Brinkin noted that during the past year he has learned a great deal about transgendered (sic) people: that they are vibrant, talented and smart, and that discrimination against them is the most blatant, hateful and horrifying he has seen. He added that the struggles of the transgender community can teach us a lot about what it means to be a woman or a man, or to live your life as yourself and not according to the expectations of others.

“Mr. Brinkin dedicated his remarks to Michelle, and pledged to work for transgender equality.”3

A pivotal piece of legislation impacting transgender rights came from the federal level in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) had inserted language specifically excluding transgender people from federal protection under the ADA.  This nullified Larry Brinkin’s efforts on behalf of transpeople because he had pursued prosecution on the basis of disability law.4

The issue of disability would recur in the ongoing proceedings respecting transgender people.  One of the recommendations of the 1994 investigation was:

“25. That while the Commission does not intend to recommend that all transgendered (sic) persons be regarded as disabled, the Commission does recommend that if a transgendered (sic) person does become disabled, for instance as the result of transsexual related treatment or procedures, or for any other reason, that treatment for the resulting condition should be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Commission recommends that the City lobby Congress and the State Legislature to amend federal and State disability laws accordingly.”5

The death of Shelley Elvira Salieri on May 26, 1996 didn’t end her influence.  Jamison Green and Larry Brinkin dedicated the published report on the 1994 investigation to her.6 The Human Rights Commission then applied itself to another publication in 1998:  Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination. The Compliance Guidelines set the standard for business and government practices in San Francisco.  They also cemented the definition of “transgender” for that jurisdiction and the same definition came to be adopted in other jurisdictions as well:

“’Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous”7

Around this time an influential transwoman named Theresa Sparks arrived in San Francisco from Kansas.  She joined the roughly 450 member transgender support group Educational TV Channel (ETVC) which was going through a transformation of its own.  A donor had contributed a substantial sum to that club under the condition that it adopt a more inclusive name for itself.  In 1998 ETVC became Transgender San Francisco (TGSF), a move that would later stick in a 2000 referendum on its constitution and bylaws.  TGSF had become more than just a support group for heterosexual and gay cross dressers.  Its members would embrace transgender people of all genres.  Transsexual, transvestite, and impersonator all found relatively common ground with generally friendly receptions.  But Theresa Sparks struggled as did transsexuals everywhere to gain meaningful employment, resorting to work as a taxi driver before landing a position at a sex toy shop called, “Good Vibrations.”

Theresa worked with transman Marcus Arana of the Human Rights Commission to push for a task force to reevaluate how far San Francisco had come since the passage of Proposition L.  This culminated in the establishment of the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force consisting of 17 voting transgender members appointed by the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Willie Brown, and the Human Rights Commission.  They gave these members a  2 year mandate to do this reevaluation and to recommend means for San Francisco to implement what would be necessary to comply with public policy.  Supervisor Mark Leno convened the first meeting on July 1, 2000 in Room 210 of City Hall, and turned the proceedings over to the initial co-chairs who in turn presided over the election if its regular co-chairs.  Other volunteers attended this and subsequent meetings, taking various positions as members of committees that reported to the voting body.8

Larry Brinkin addressed this task force on the first day, introducing the Compliance Guidelines as the standard by which the task force needed to conduct their evaluations.  Another addressed them concerning the Sunshine Ordinance, the established standard of public disclosure for all government activities including those appointed by local officials.

The task force remained bogged down concerning its mission during its initial months precisely because it represented so many different versions of transgender each with issues of its own.  But on September 30, 2000 Governor Gray Davis signed AB 2222 into law, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl.  The text of this new law came into the hands during the October 5 meeting.

AB 2222, also called the Prudence Kay Poppink Act, revised the definitions of what could be applied to the issue of discrimination on the basis of disability, most specifically of mental and physical disability and medical condition.  The act applied these revised definitions to provisions prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations, business transactions, access to public places, and employment in the state civil service system.9

Among the definitions targeted in Kuehl’s legislation pertained to exemptions pertaining to mental disabilities in Section 12926 of the Government Code. These exemptions included sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from the current unlawful use of controlled substances or other drugs.  AB 2222 eliminated some exemptions retained in the original ADA: transvestism and transsexualism.  Transgender people now had some legal recourse for Larry Brinkin to resume his prosecutions on the basis of disability law after 10 years of being hobbled by the ADA.

The task force members naturally welcomed this change.  But that still left all the issues of discrimination against transgender people to issues of disability.  The task force did not believe that transgenderism of any sort should be treated as disability.  But their review of AB 2222 underscored another stark truth voiced at that meeting:  that the level of protections sought for transgender people would require action above the municipal level to the state level.

That realization began a pivot.  While the task force continued to apply itself on the municipal level to issues like transition benefits (approved in 2001) and reforms with respect to police practice, the holy grail of trans rights in California would have to wait till the 2002 election.  In that year Supervisor Mark Leno won a seat in the State Assembly.  Theresa Sparks continued to work with him to push through AB 196 in 2003.

AB 196 picked up where AB 2222 left off and revised Section 12926 of the Government Code, exactly the same section revised by Sheila Kuehl’s AB 2222, defining discrimination according to sex as including “perceived sex.”  It also added a new section:

“SEC. 2.  Section 12949 is added to the Government Code to read:

  1. Nothing in this part relating to gender-based discrimination affects the ability of an employer to require an employee to adhere to reasonable workplace appearance, grooming, and dress standards not precluded by other provisions of state or federal law, provided that an employer shall allow an employee to appear or dress consistently with the employee’s gender identity.”10

Passage of AB 196 finally brought defense of transgender people out of the scope of disability law and into the scope of sex discrimination.  But where the idea of “perceived sex” eventually eroded to the point where Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced AB 887 in 2011. AB 887 made sweeping revisions in California law to address discrimination on the basis of gender identity per sé including:

 Section 51 of the Civil Code

  • Sections 200, 210.2, 210.7, 220, 32228, 47605.6, 51007, 66260.6, 66260.7, and 66270 of the Education Code
  • Sections 12920, 12921, 12926, 12930, 12931, 12935, 12940, 12944, 12949, 12955, 12955.8, 12956.1, and 12956.2 of the Government Code
  • Sections 676.10, 10140, 10140.2, and 12693.28 of the Insurance Code
  • Section 3600 of the Labor Code
  • Sections 186.21, 422.56, 422.85, 3053.4, and 11410 of the Penal Code11

California now has the strongest pro-transgender laws anywhere on the planet.  Today where gender identity discrimination happens in California, the Transgender Law Center is usually the first to step in on behalf of wronged trans parties.  These attorneys have been empowered to file lawsuits on the basis of law as it is today, on the basis of sex and gender identity discrimination.

But we might look with astonishment upon some of the stories of the key people pertaining to the cause of trans rights in California.

Jamison Green continues to write and teach on civil rights.  He eventually earned his doctorate degree and now teaches at the college level.12

Larry Brinkin retired from the Human Rights Commission in 2010 a loved and respected activist and speaker for human rights.  The Board of Supervisors declared a “Larry Brinkin Week.” In December 2010.  However, the city and LGBT community were shocked to learn of his September 2012 arrest for possession and distribution of child pornography.  He pleaded guilty of possession in a plea deal, ending a story about a brilliant career in disgrace.13

Prudence Poppink, a public service lawyer and administrative law judge for the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, and after whom Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl named AB 2222, died on November 16 of the same year from breast cancer.  Ironically, her death occurred within a week of when Gwendolyn Ann Smith announced in San Francisco’s United Nations Square at the second Transgender Day of Remembrance that this event would continue to be observed for as long as transpeople continue to be murdered in hate crimes.14

Marcus Arana who, with Theresa Sparks, was instrumental in bringing about the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force and served as one of the initially appointed co-chairs, fell homeless and into ill health.  Friends of his have set up a You Caring page to fund his recovery.15

Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl herself is now the Supervisor of District 3 of Los Angeles County.16

Theresa Sparks continues to serve on the Human Rights Commission as Executive Director.17

Mark Leno now serves in the California State Senate.18

Toni Atkins continues to serve in the California State Assembly and served as Speaker of the Assembly.19

These are some of the many people who made trans rights happen in California.  No one person did this work.  No one person can: not in California, not anywhere.  Much needs to be done in many places for this cause, and it will take us all working together in the future to achieve it.



Image Credit: Then Assemblymember Mark Leno announces AB 196 signed into law by Governor Gray Davis at the LGBT Community Center, San Francisco, August 2003.  From The Channel, Volume 22, Issue 9, September 2003, p. 12. Transgender San Francisco.  Photographer unattributed in The Channel and no indication of copyright, probably by Telsey Adams who typically submitted the photos to The Channel during this period.  Used by permission per written policy of TGSF concerning material without copyright published in The Channel.

Unless otherwise noted the writer relies upon her own recollections of what took place as one who has followed these events over the years as a trans activist.

  1. Green, Jamison, and Brinkin, Larry. Investigation Into Discrimination Against Transgendered (sic) People (September 1994) Human Rights Commission, City and County of San Francisco.  21
  2. Ibid, p. 24.
  3. Ibid, pp. 21,22.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid, p. 49.
  6. Ibid, p. 1.
  7. Human Rights Commission. Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination; respecting San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, 12C; and San Francisco Municipal Police Code Article 33; (December 10, 1998) City and County of San Francisco. p. 2.
  8. The writer relies upon her own recollections concerning Theresa Sparks, Transgender San Francisco, and the proceedings of the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force under which the writer served as Secretary to the Employment Committee.
  9. Kuehl, Sheila. AB 2222 (Chaptered September 30, 2000).  Web: Leg Info:  http:/ / gov/pub/99-00/bill/asm/ab_2201-2250/ab_2222_bill_20000930_chaptered.html . Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  10. Leno, Mark. AB 196 (Chaptered August 2, 2003) Web: Leg Info:  Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  11. Atkins, Toni. AB 887 (Chaptered October 11, 2011) Web:  Leg Info: Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  12. The writer relies upon her own personal knowledge concerning Dr. Jamison Green, being connected with him on social media.
  13. Nagle, Rob and Aldax, Mike. Gay Rights Advocate Larry Brinkin Sentenced on Child Pornography Charges (March 4, 2014) Web: San Francisco Examiner. . Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  14. Stannard, Matthew B. Prudence Kay Poppink (November 20, 2000) Web: SF Gate , Retrieved June 7, 2016. The writer relies upon her recollection of the second Day of Remembrance November 20, 2016 as an attendee.
  15. (n.) Marcus Arana. (n.d. of original post but an update is dated November 13, 2014) Web: You Caring You Caring . Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  16. (n.a.) Sheila Kuehl LA County Supervisor District 3 (n.d.) Website: Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  17. (n.a.) Theresa Sparks (n.d.) Website: Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  18. (n.a.) Senator Mark Leno (n.d.) Website:, Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  19. (n.a.) Assemblymember Toni Atkins (n.d.) Website: Retrieved June 10, 2016.