Bill AB2802- Former PL TAY Youth Voices are Heard

May 1, 2024

My Trip to Sacramento to Speak at the Human Services Assembly Meeting

On May 22nd, 2023, Penny Lane Commerce TAY drop-in Center was invited to collaborate with the California Alliance for Children and Family Services to uplift artwork from youth that frequent the drop-in Center. My foster sister, Maybelline who is an amazing growing artist, was asked to submit her artwork to be auctioned at the event. She asked me to attend the event with her for moral support. That day I was introduced to Celeste Walley and Selena Liu-Raphael who were the individuals overseeing the Thriving into Adulthood conference. Maybelline had done so well in selling her art piece that they approached us and introduced themselves. They later reached out to us with opportunities for paid focus groups for TAY who have experience being in foster. I had not yet started working at Penny Lane so at the time, the most attractive part about participating was the incentive. The more I attended the groups the more involved I became. They created a space where I felt like my story was being heard, and there was something being done about the system’s shortcomings. They came up with questions and policy recommendations based on our real-life experiences. I attended a few focus groups before I felt comfortable enough to speak up. They consistently mentioned their six policy proposals, and after sharing about my experience of what I had to go thru to receive housing during one of the focus groups Celeste and Selena reached out for me to share more during an online conference with service providers and California assembly members.  The amount of positive feedback and support that came from sharing at that online conference was honestly unexpected. Little did I know that was just the beginning.

In August 2023 I started working for Penny Lane Centers as a LGBTQ+ Peer Navigator, but I kept attending the online focus groups. I no longer only looked forward to the incentives offered in exchange for my participation, but I was excited to be a part of a space where I felt heard. After a couple more months of attending support groups and learning more about the policy focus, Selena reached out to me with good news. She was happy to announce that Assemblymember Brian Maienschein had volunteered to be the author of our bill.  OUR BILL. AB2802, a bill that promotes the right to practice gender flexibility in shared spaces in Transitional housing programs (THP/THP+) for foster youth.

In December 2023 Celeste and Selena reached out to me and invited me to Sacramento to share my story at the 2024 winter conference that the California Alliance for Children and Family services hosted at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel. They were kind enough to cover my travel expenses and even offered me a stipend. This was the first time, since I left church, that I was going to speak in front of a group of people. On March 14th I had the pleasure of speaking on the Thriving into Adulthood/Hilton Project panel.

The presentation consisted of the six policy recommendations:  

I championed policy recommendation two, which would Allow for Gender flexibility in space sharing in THP/THP+. I highlighted that operating in a CIS-normative system means that me and people like me are forced to play a role the system needs us to play to access resources. There are already many limiting factors when it comes to housing youth in foster care, and I firmly believe that gender should not be one of them. I believe that as the needs and norms of our foster youth shift with time, our policies protecting them have too as well. We need to hold space for the youth who do not have conventional experiences. Their lives depend on it. Using my story of having to identify as female to receive any type of resources in a system that often leaves our young men, Intersex, and gender expansive individuals to fend for themselves, I was able to convey they importance of this policy change. After reading my speech I was overwhelmed by the standing ovation. After the panel presentation, I was approached by many supportive members of the alliance. I was also approached by Policy Analyst Purva Bhattacharjee, who invited me to speak at the policy hearing for AB2802. She expressed how moved she was from my story and believed that my story would greatly impact the votes of the assembly board members for AB2802 to pass to appropriations. She invited me to return to Sacramento in April to speak at the bill hearing, and again covered the travel expenses.

On April 9th, 2024, The Human Services Committee of the State of California held a policy hearing in the State capitol building. I had two minutes during the policy hearing to share my experience and why this policy change is relevant.

Here is the Link to video of the Human Services Committee Policy Hearing: Assembly Video (1:25 Bill is presented; 1:27:44 I’m speaking)

I would not have been able to utilize my voice and experience without the immense support, patience, guidance and of such great leaders such as Purva, Celeste and Selena. They also warned about a certain assembly member who may be very vocal about their contrasting views to the policy. I was nervous about that, but ultimately up for the challenge of speaking up especially in the face of adversity. While there was one vote against passing the bill, we won 5-1.

I continue to participate in these spaces, because I believe that it is my calling to be an advocate. This amazing experience of being able to be a part of something as big as a statewide policy change has opened my mind to how powerful advocacy can be. I feel fueled by this experience and am motivated now, more than ever, to continue to invest in a better future for the youth that we serve.

Soon, the Alliance will be hosting the Thriving into Adulthood Conference in Pomona California. This is a collaborative project led by those with lived expertise and a cross section of professionals and providers who together seek to share and improve resources and available services. The Penny Lane Commerce TAY drop-in center will be proudly collaborating with the Alliance to uplift and display art from our clients on May 31st, 2024. I encourage anyone who works directly with TAY-aged clients to have them register for free!  (Thriving into Adulthood Conference) The most valuable thing that this whole experience has gifted me has been hope for a better system of support for our future youth, and that starts with us.

-Levi Nunez, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some more photos below!