Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Bills aimed at helping LGBT youth advance in Sacramento

Two pieces of legislation aimed at helping LGBT youth in the Golden State have advanced closer to being signed into law.

The California Assembly Education Committee, on a 7-3 vote Wednesday, April 13, passed AB 9, also known as Seth’s Law.  The comprehensive bill provides California schools with specific tools to prevent and address the pervasive problem of bullying in order to create a safe school environment for all students. The bill honors Seth Walsh, a 13 year-old gay student from Tehachapi, California, who took his life in September 2010, after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.

“I can’t bring my son back. But the California legislature can make a difference today to protect young people across our state just like Seth who are or are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Schools need to take harassment and bullying seriously when parents or students tell them about it, and when they see it and hear it on the school campus,” stated Wendy Walsh, seen holding a photo of her son Seth in the photo at right, who testified on behalf of the legislation.

Openly gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) is the lead author of the bill. Backing it are a coalition of LGBT organizations, including Equality California, the ACLU’s California Affiliates, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

“As a former teacher, I know how important it is for our students to feel safe at school. Each day throughout California, LGBT youth experience harassment,” stated Ammiano (pictured at left) following the committee vote. “Seth’s Law will give schools the necessary tools to prevent any young person from being bullied, harassed or worse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”

The bill requires that California schools update their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and programs to include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, as well as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability, and religion. It also empowers students and parents to know what their rights are and how to advocate for them.

The vote comes as Bay Area LGBT teens and their allies are hosting a daylong summit on how to address bullying in schools next weekend. The summit takes place Saturday, April 23 at Aragon High School in San Mateo.

State Senators on Thursday passed, by a 23-14 vote, SB 48, the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, authored by out Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Known as the FAIR bill, it requires schools to teach about the LGBT community’s historic contributions in social science classes.

“Most textbooks don’t include any information about LGBT historical figures or the LGBT civil rights movement, which has great significance to both California and U.S. history,” stated Leno. “This selective censorship sends the wrong message to all young people, and especially to those who do not identify as straight. We can’t tell our youth that it’s OK to be yourself and expect them to treat their peers with dignity and respect while we deny them accurate information about the historical contributions of Americans who happened to be LGBT.”

The bill would also add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing anti-discrimination protections that prohibit bias in school activities, instruction and instructional materials. The bill is co-sponsored by Equality California and Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

“As a gay young man, I struggled with accepting my identity for years. In school, I never learned that people like me had achieved great things like leading a civil rights movement. Instead, I had only learned stereotypes,” stated Isaiah Baiseri, a senior at Glendora High School who testified at a Senate committee hearing in support of the bill. “I’m thankful the Senate passed SB 48 so that someday other students like me can learn our history.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly rules committee.

— Matthew S. Bajko, April 14, 2011 @ 2:09 pm PST
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