California will track violent deaths of LGBTQ+ people in nationwide first

California will become the first state in the US to track the violent deaths of LGBTQ+ people, a move that advocacy groups are hailing as a “huge victory” and a critical tool in understanding disproportionate rates of violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

Governor Gavin Newsom, fresh off his victory in the recent recall election, signed a bill into law that will establish a three-year pilot program in as many as six counties to collect information about gender identity and sexual orientation in cases of violent deaths, which include suicides and homicides.

Advocates have said this kind of data-gathering is key to understanding and addressing the greater risk of violence faced by LGBTQ+ people. This year is on track to be the deadliest for trans and gender non-conforming Americans with at least 36 people killed, the majority of whom were Black and Latinx transgender women. LGBTQ+ people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent crime, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault, according to a UCLA study.

“We know that LGBTQ people are more often the victims of violent crimes. Within the LGBTQ community because of lack of acceptance, discrimination and harassment, we see higher rates of suicidal ideation,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, the communications director for Equality California, an advocacy group that supported the bill. “We only know how best to address these important issues when we have the data.”

The bill will require counties be trained to identify and collect clinical data related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The coroner or medical examiner of that county will submit annual reports on the data to the state department of public health and county board of supervisors for three years.

“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,” the bill reads.

Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Stanislaus and Fresno counties have agreed to participate in the program, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, which will include a mix of rural, suburban and urban counties in the north, south and central areas of the state.

The author of the bill, the assemblyman and former emergency room doctor Joaquin Arambula, told the newspaper that he created the bill because he saw first-hand the disproportionate violence among LGBTQ+ patients.

“While working on the frontlines, I had many of those experiences,” he said. “I was there and felt like this was a glaring need to better understand violent deaths.”

Equality California, which supported the bill along with the Trevor Project, has called the legislation a victory.

“It will help us better understand the problems confronting the community both in terms of hate crimes but also suicide and then prioritize resources,” Garrett-Pate said. “Having this information about how these issues impact the LGBTQ community is critically important to our response.”

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