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‘Equal pay’ bill faces opposition by former supporters

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include an additional statement by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath following online publication. The Wahine Project announced on Wednesday, April 24, the group has rescinded its opposition and will support Assembly Bill 467.

ENCINITAS — A women’s surfing advocacy group has withdrawn its endorsement of a state bill requiring equal pay for female athletes over concerns the legislation does not go far enough to protect women from gender-based discrimination.

Sabrina Brennan, co-founder of Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS), said the nonprofit group will oppose Assembly Bill 467, known as the Equal Play for Equal Pay Act, unless amended to provide equal access for men and women in all pro surf competitions.

Eleven organizations and businesses joined CEWS in opposition to the bill, including the Homestretch Foundation, IAP Films and Surf Club of the Claremont Colleges, according to the release.

The Wahine Project, which originally joined the opposition to AB 467, walked back their previous statements and said the group now supports the bill.

“First we have to get the women into the competition, then we can get equal pay,” Brennan said. “I don’t understand why the bill wouldn’t be both things.”

AB 467 would amend the state Fish and Game Code to require equal compensation and prize money for any competition featuring both male and female divisions.

The bill would not apply to male- or female-only competitions, raising questions from some supporters about the ability to facilitate pay equity without first establishing equal access.

According to Brennan, the bill’s authors refuse to prohibit gender-based discrimination in an effort to preserve all-female sporting events such as Supergirl Surf Pro.

Carissa Moore of Hawaii competes in the Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro Sunday in Oceanside. of Hawaii wins the Paul Mitchell Supergirl Pro Sunday in Oceanside.

Brennan’s public announcement comes just days after AB 467 was unanimously passed out of committee and scheduled for an assembly appropriations hearing on Wednesday, April 24, at the state capitol.

The San Mateo harbor commissioner also recommended AB 467 be amended to “require businesses and organizations that manage and promote athletic competitions on California state lands comply with the Unruh Civil Rights Act.”

The Unruh Act outlaws discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, mental or physical disability, age or medical condition in California.

Earlier this year, assembly members Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), announced the introduction of AB 467 on Feb. 14 during a news conference in Encinitas, which Brennan was invited to attend as a guest speaker.

At first, Brennan said she was excited about the bill’s potential but admitted that she hadn’t viewed the entire draft until after she accepted the invitation to attend the media event and purchased a plane ticket.

“The timing was so short,” Brennan said. “At the airport, I read the bill and I’m like, that all sounds fine but there is nothing in there about the inclusion of women in competition and making sure events are equal.”

Since the event, Brennan has spoken out against the bill, saying that it doesn’t prevent athletic organizations from simply excluding women altogether from competitions.

“It’s not just about surfing,” Brennan said. “It’s about all sports on state lands and that includes state highways and includes bicycle racing among other things.”

Kathryn Bertine, retired pro cyclist and CEO of the Homestretch Foundation, wrote a letter to Gonzalez urging the assemblywoman to close loopholes of gender exclusion.

Bertine said female athletes are marginalized at the highest levels of competition, namely cycling’s prestigious AMGEN Tour of California, noting that women race fewer days and shorter distances for less prize money at AMGEN.

“Sadly, many of the professional women in cycling bear the burden of not being able to speak out and call for change…as they fear being dropped from their team (and their paycheck) for pushing social boundaries,” Bertine wrote in her letter. “As a retired cyclist, I fight for equality on their behalf.”

Dionne Ybarra, founding director of Monterey-based The Wahine Project, had previously withdrew her support of AB 467, saying at the time she believed this was a missed opportunity to better protect athletes in the future.

“We think an amendment (to the bill) is important,” Ybarra told The Coast News. “It’s missing that extra element where it can provide continued protection. I think in anything, people are going to try and find a way around the rules, work another angle and then women will be excluded again.”

But despite a flurry of reversals, Boerner Horvath said the language in the bill hasn’t changed and was never intended to address all of the inequities women face in professional sports.

The former Encinitas councilwoman said that she hopes supporters can stay focused on the bill’s primary objective: achieving prize equity for women.

“My issue is about pay equity and that’s what AB 467 does,” Boerner Horvath told The Coast News. “I think everybody is entitled to their perspective. But I would hope we stay focused on the importance of the bill alone. If we lose sight of the goal, to establish pay equity for women on state lands, I worry we could throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Boerner Horvath acknowledged there is more work to do in the fight for equality in sports but believes her legislation is an important first step towards creating a level-playing field for female athletes.

“There is no other area where we would ever accept this type of pay disparity between men and women,” Boerner Horvath said. “It’s a timely bill and I will work my darndest to create a coalition to move it along to the governor’s desk.”

But Brennan suggests that members of Boerner Horvath’s staff, specifically Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, refused to consider equal-access provisions in an effort to protect all-female competitions from adding a male division.

Schumacher, a three-time women’s longboarding champion, also serves as a field representative for Boerner Horvath in the district and helped draft the bill.

In a series of email correspondences between Brennan and Schumacher obtained by The Coast News, Schumacher expressed her reluctance to widen the bill’s scope to address gender equality.

“Concerns exist regarding ‘equal access’ and how that would impair female-only events/spaces/leagues/business events…it is of major concern to a number of my colleagues in the sports gender equity realm, and the assembly members,” Schumacher said in an email.

Schumacher listed Supergirl Surf Pro, an international female surf competition in Oceanside, and Carlsbad’s All Girls Skate Jam, as examples of female-only competitions that would be negatively affected by equal-access legislation. 

When Brennan told Schumacher she considered gender-specific events on public lands a form of discrimination, Schumacher responded with another email:

“It sounds like you might be making a case for the elimination of gendered categories? Just received your last email. There is quite a bit of commentary and academic research around the impacts of the erasure of difference and who it impacts. The beneficiaries of this erasure of difference continues to be white males, which is why equity remains a focus for social and environmental justice advocates in many social institutions, established and emerging.”

Brennan said Schumacher has since blocked her on social media accounts but said she would still support AB 467 if certain changes were made.

“We really wanted to work collaboratively with these women,” Brennan said. “We think (AB 467) could be great but it’s a message with significant loopholes.” 

In a statement provided by Boerner Horvath following the online publication of this article, the Assemblywoman said:

“The discussion in this article highlights why a hearing on gender inclusion in athletic contests on public lands by the Select Committee on Women in the Workplace is absolutely necessary.

“That doesn’t mean we should stop moving forward with AB 467: Equal Pay for Equal Play.  

“We need to make progress on what we agree on — pay equity — and continue to have constructive dialog on other aspects.  I welcome that discussion.”

Councilwoman Cori Schumacher did not respond to requests for comment.

ts opposition and will support Assembly Bill 467.

ENCINITAS — A women’s surfing advocacy group has withdrawn its endorsement of a state bill requiring equal pay for female athletes over concerns the legislation does not go far enough to protect women from gender-based discrimination.

Sabrina Brennan, co-founder of Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS), said the nonprofit group will oppose Assembly Bill 467, known as the Equal Play for Equal Pay Act, unless amended to provide equal access for men and women in all pro surf competitions.

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