State legislators voted unanimously Sunday night to pass SB932 by state Sen. Scott Wiener requiring health workers to ask patients infected with the coronavirus and about 90 other diseases about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Patients could decline to answer.
The California Department of Public Health did not require providers to start gathering data on LGBTQ people who contract the coronavirus until late July. Advocates criticized the state for the delay, saying LGBTQ people are vulnerable because of underlying health problems such as a higher prevalence of HIV, some cancers and respiratory problems from smoking, as well as elevated levels of homelessness.
Wiener, D-San Francisco, said the delay was the latest instance of government’s failure to track health problems among the LGBTQ community.
“We’ve come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s, during which LGBTQ people were ignored and marginalized while facing the HIV/AIDS crisis,” he said. “But we have a long way to go before the LGBTQ community is fully supported and cared for by our health infrastructure.”
His bill would make the data reporting permanent and require all counties and health providers to ask the same LGBTQ demographic questions. The state already gathers data on patient race, age and gender for COVID-19 and all other communicable diseases it tracks.
The bill, which had no formal opposition, now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom. He has until Sept. 30 to decide whether to sign it.
LGBTQ leaders say that if the state knows how the coronavirus is spreading in a demographic group, health officials can better identify outbreaks in real time and tailor messages to reach the community.
“We must never again allow members of the LGBTQ+ community to be erased or ignored during a pandemic or any other health crisis,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, an LGBTQ advocacy group and bill sponsor, said in a statement.
He added, “I lost too many friends and loved ones during the AIDS crisis to watch that happen again.”