Eric Burkett, The Bay Area Reporter
In what might be considered an unfortunate — but illustrative — coincidence of timing, an East Bay Assemblymember has introduced legislation that would make it easier for candidates, elected officials, their families and staff to provide security for themselves in the face of increasing threats.
Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) on December 6 introduced Assembly Bill 37, which would expand on current law by allowing candidates and elected officials to use campaign funds for the protection of themselves, their families, or their staff, according to a news release from Bonta's office. "This protection includes security systems and security personnel. AB 37 will mirror what is currently allowed on the federal level."
Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) is supportive and gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is a co-author.
Although the bill has been in the works since October, explained Bonta's chief of staff, Tomasa Dueñas, the timing of its introduction was a coincidence. The bill was introduced hot on the heels of what was only the latest threat against Wiener.
"Early this morning, I was informed by the San Francisco Standard and the police that someone had issued a bomb threat against me, listing my specific home address and also threatening to shoot up my Capitol office," Wiener stated in a December 6 news release, referring to the online news outlet. "The email said 'we will fucking kill you' and called me a pedophile and groomer."
Wiener and his staff have endured an ongoing slew of physical threats and verbal attacks from various sources, including a tweet November 29 by Georgia Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene (R), who called the California legislator a "communist groomer" and accused him of using "state government power" to take children from their parents so that the "for-profit medical industry" can "chop off these confused children's genitals before they are even old enough to vote."
On June 12, Wiener received an email telling him bombs had been placed in his home and office. In September, a Contra Costa County jury convicted San Ramon resident Erik Triana, 51, on gun charges and for threatening Wiener's life earlier this year in January.
Wiener has been the subject of such attacks due in large part to his authoring LGBTQ-related legislation such as Senate Bill 107, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom this fall and provides refuge for trans kids and their families who come to California from states like Texas and Florida, two of several that have ramped up efforts to prevent gender-affirming care and other services.
Wiener also authored SB 923, which requires medical professionals who interact with transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex patients to receive cultural competency training, and health providers will need to create searchable online directories of their gender-affirming services. Newsom also signed that legislation, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.
At the December 1 World AIDS Day observance at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Wiener noted how he was the subject of threats back in 2017 when he and gay former Assemblymember and current San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (D) co-authored HIV decriminalization legislation.
SB 239 was signed by former governor Jerry Brown. It went into effect in 2018 and modernized the state's HIV criminalization laws adopted during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Before SB 239, HIV-positive people could be prosecuted for engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with the specific intent to transmit HIV even if no actual transmission of the virus occurred. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.
The new law requires proof that transmission of HIV did occur in order for a person to be prosecuted for intentionally transmitting the virus to a sex partner.
Other lawmakers also targeted
Several other legislators in California have faced threats, as well. Former state Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) received numerous threats for his LGBTQ-inclusive and pro-public health legislation, and Wicks received threats and harassing messages, in addition to being subjected to a trucker convoy that drove around her neighborhood, because of her work to protect access to abortion and reproductive rights.
Around the United States, political rhetoric has become angrier and more threatening, particularly by right-wing groups and individuals who seek to use intimidation to press their agenda, observers have noted.
"As public servants, there is a lot we sacrifice to serve, this includes spending time with family and our privacy," Bonta stated in a news release. "However, the one thing we should never be willing or expected to give up is our sense of safety. Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in threats against public officials, especially women, and harassment against legislative staff who are serving the constituents who elected us to office."
Wicks called the proposed bill "important."
"Our number one job as legislators is to protect the people we serve, and that duty includes our families, our staff, and ourselves," Wicks stated. "As radicalized extremists' harassment and intimidation tactics continue to grow, so must our ability to maintain a sense of security. I applaud Assemblymember Bonta for bringing forth this important bill, one that will bring California up to speed with what is allowed on the federal level."
Tony Hoang, executive director of Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, said this week's threat against Wiener has consequences.
"The bomb threat against Senator Wiener is another clear indication that the hateful rhetoric and lies from far-right, anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and pundits have dangerous consequences," Hoang stated. "They aren't playing political games. This is not an issue with two sides. They're inciting violence against Senator Wiener and the LGBTQ+ community, and their actions and words should be treated as such.
"Silence is not an option," Hoang continued. "Responsible leaders, regardless of political affiliation or ideology, must reject and condemn these hateful lies about Senator Wiener and LGBTQ+ people. To do any less is to be complicit in the violence they incite."
The proposed legislation will be taken up when the Assembly convenes in January.