Kauai News

Ige Signs Bills Furthering LGBTQ+ Equality, Inclusion

By Nathan Christophel

Posted June 21, 2022, 6:00 PM HST ·Updated June 21, 4:52 PM

Gov. David Ige signed three bills last week that further efforts to make Hawai‘i more inclusive of residents who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo from Gov. Ige’s Facebook page)

State lawmakers showed their support for Hawai‘i’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus community during the 2022 legislative session, passing several measures that further equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, and Gov. David Ige signed them into law last week — in the middle of Pride Month.

Pride Month banners hang on light posts in downtown Hilo on the Big Island. (Photo by Nathan Christophel)

The measures Ige signed during a ceremony Thursday, June 16, at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu were:

  • House Bill 2405 is called the Gender Affirming Treatment Act. The measure prohibits insurance providers from excluding gender-affirming treatments when medically necessary and requires health plans to provide information about gender transition services.
  • Senate Bill 2136 ensures gender identity or expression cannot be a reason for excluding a Hawai‘i resident from jury service.
  • SB2670 establishes a permanent state LGBTQ+ commission that Ige said will play a critical role in coordinating programs, creating public awareness and establishing long-range goals and cooperation on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ige said during the signing ceremony that the COVID-19 pandemic caused people in Hawai‘i to take an honest look at the ways that which they care for each other and their communities.

“I do believe these bills are an important step to ensuring that the LGBTQ+ community is included in the circle of care that we provide to all of our residents,” he said.

The ceremony was conducted in front of the Bishop Museum’s Castle Memorial Building, which is hosting “The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” exhibit this month. Ige said the exhibit highlights that Native Hawaiians had a special and respected place for residents of dual identity.

“‘The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu’ exhibition explores the past and contemporary meanings of four large stones that were long ago placed on Waikīkī Beach to honor four māhū, extraordinary individuals of dual male and female spirit, who brought healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi,” according to the Bishop Museum website.

“We are here today to not only to acknowledge that rich history, but also to signify that moving forward, we are redoubling our efforts to be a more inclusive community in total,” Ige said during the bill signing ceremony.

He said collectively, the three bills are critical in supporting LGBTQ+ members of the Hawai‘i community.

“They will help us identify and address social and community issues more effectively and ensure that we can work to prevent discrimination in many areas of our society,” the governor said.

He thanked the advocates and legislators involved in passing the three measures, saying they make Hawai’i a more inclusive and accepting place.

“We are committed to ensuring everyone in our community has access to be active participants in our community,” Ige said. The governor also later Thursday in a Facebook post again thanked everyone who made the three bills happen, ensuring “Hawai‘i strives to be an inclusive community for all.”

State Sen. Chris Lee and state Rep. Adrian Tam, who established the Equality Caucus in the state Legislature earlier this year, also spoke during the bill signing ceremony. The caucus is aimed at identifying and addressing key issues facing Hawai‘i’s LGBTQ+ community.

“These bills, while important each on their own merits, mean so much more because this isn’t just about a commission or jury service or anything else,” Lee said. “This is fundamentally about rejecting the politics of division and discrimination now permeating discussion throughout the rest of the country and reaffirming for Hawai‘i that everyone here deserves the same respect and aloha.”

While the issues of LGBTQ+ rights and inclusivity are divisive elsewhere in the United States, Lee said Hawai‘i comes together as a community and recognizes that there is much to learn from each other, no matter a person’s background, history or relationships.

“That’s such a wonderful thing, and we have such a rich history here in Hawai‘i of coming together in this way … ,” he said.

Tam, the state Legislature’s only openly gay member, said Thursday’s bill signing ceremony was a momentous occasion.

“It wasn’t that long ago that the bills that we are passing today or similar measures would have zero to no chance of becoming law, and if they were on the path of becoming law, they wouldn’t be deserving of a ceremony like this because of the negative stigmas that plagued our community,” Tam said. “But today, my hope is that we send a strong message to our youth that while they may still be struggling to accept themselves or they’re slowly coming to terms with who they are, we send a strong message that Hawai‘i stands with them and that we love them.”

He said while legislatures and governors in other parts of the country are passing measures that harm the LGBTQ+ community, from bills prohibiting teachers from teaching LGBTQ+ topics in their classrooms to legislation that would require counselors and teachers to out students to their parents, he hopes Hawai‘i sends a strong message throughout the nation that it is continuing to move forward, offering an inclusive community for everyone.

Tam added that Ige’s signing of the three bills not only benefits the LGBTQ+ community, it also furthers the quest of making Hawai‘i a more equitable society.

He said HB2405 creates a positive trajectory for members of the LGBTQ+ community to receive gender-affirming health care.

“Various advocate groups from the trans community have been advocating for a bill with this language for the last few years,” Saludares said. “Our hope is that having this bill signed into law will, in fact, make it easier for members of our community to receive these life-saving treatments. As the science proves, gender-affirming health care is suicide prevention.”

He said that while discrimination of any kind is already prohibited by laws already on the books, Equality HI is grateful Ige signed SB2136, as it reaffirms the state’s commitment to equality for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Saludares said SB2670 is a monumental bill. It makes Hawai‘i only the third state to create a permanent statewide commission that focuses on the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Creating the commission is a great first step in this process,” he said, adding, however, that the bill passed without an appropriation of funds. “We are hopeful that the appropriation will be forthcoming so that the commission can hire a staffer to take minutes from the meetings and perform other duties necessary. We also remain hopeful that the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community will be reflected in the members that the governor appoints. As the saying goes, ‘nothing about us, without us.'”

Phill Russell, president of Hawai‘i Island LGBTQ Pride, echoed Saludares’ comments.

“I’m happy we are taking steps to address issues facing our trans ‘ohana,” Russell told Big Island Now. “More needs to be done regarding discrimination and gender-affirming care. I’m looking forward to what the newly formed commission reveals and hope they have representation and seek input from our outerisland communities.”

To watch the bill signing ceremony on the governor’s Facebook page, click here.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, one of the most diverse universities in the nation, also announced Tuesday, June 21, that an anonymous donor has helped further equality and inclusion by gifting the UH-Hilo campus with $3 million for scholarships, including the first-ever endowed scholarship specifically supporting LGBTQ+ students.

The Kruschel LGBTQ+ Endowed Scholarship for students who identify as LGBTQ+ is also a first for the UH system.

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Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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