After reviewing nearly a thousand bills, Governor Jerry Brown approved Bill AB 827 on October 7, among other actions.
The bill “provides safer learning environments and support for LGBTQ students” by ensuring that schools offer middle and high school teachers, as well as LGBTQ students, information and community resources on how to handle any verbal, physical and online harassment on school site.
The bill aims to give teachers the tools needed to foster a supportive learning experience that leads to academic improvement and safer schools. It will take effect January 1, 2016.
AB 827 was introduced by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), who is also a classroom teacher and chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
“My experience as a classroom teacher has taught me one of the most important keys to academic success is a safe and inclusive learning environment,” said O’Donnell in a statement. “With the passage of AB 827, we will ensure our LGBTQ students have access to community resources and teachers are able to foster supportive learning environments and improve academic achievement.”
This bill would require each school to provide in-service training every school year to teachers of pupils in grades 7-12, on school site.
“I definitely think schools can use any extra resources,” said Joel Gemino, the Youth Services Manager at The LGBT Center Long Beach. At the Center, Gemino works with all schools in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD). “Without proper training, it’s hard to enact any laws,” he said.
Every year, The Center partakes in training with LBUSD students as well as teachers, boasting a 60-teacher outreach. This year, The Center distributed a guide for teachers on how to consult transgender students. However, those efforts might have fallen short.
“The guide was given to [teachers] one day with a memo, and it became sort of ignored and forgotten,” said Diana Rodriguez, a 16-year sixth grade teacher at Will Rogers Middle School. According to her, LGBTQ issues are often “put on the backburner, not [purposefully], but because of other things and issues that a school has to deal with.”
Gemino is aware of the challenges schools face and sees AB 827 as a means of support.
“I understand how busy teachers are and with AB 827, we think it will help incorporate a safer environment, not just for teachers and LGBT students, but for all students, by allowing (youth counselors) to further communicate and be available for everyone,” he said.
At the high school level, change is ongoing and more advanced compared to middle schools, according to teachers.
“I feel very comfortable and pleased overall,” said Marlene Hines, a teacher at Millikan High School in Long Beach. “Since we got new [administration], the staff and everyone has been so supportive, not just to me but to students.”
Hines, who is openly lesbian, is the teacher supervisor for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club, a club where gay students can meet other students and join in different activities. The club averages around 20 students per year and meets Thursdays during lunch.
Support provided by the GSA club is the type of help the bill hopes to provide more of.
According to data outlined in Equality California’s Fair Share for Equality report, LGBTQ youth are at higher risk of homelessness and related health problems due to social stigma, family rejection, and bullying and violence in schools. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and 40 percent of transgender youth have attempted suicide.
“It is important for all those involved to be very sensitive to both parties, the bully and the victim, and understand the root of the bullying,” said Gemino. “Instead of [vilifying] the bully, teachers must treat the act of bullying as a cry for help or possibly something else.”
Unlike high schools, however, middle schools lack any form of club.
“I talked to the principal about it, who also expressed interest [in] doing one,” said Rodriguez. “There is hesitation because of the spot it put teachers in dealing with parents along with students.”
Nonetheless, Rodriguez firmly believes a club will help and strongly supports AB 827. She believes educating teachers and staff members can only make people handle issues better.
“Discussing what is right, what is wrong–teachers need to be aware of what they say in front of students,” Rodriguez said. “Middle schools are having trouble changing because schools are not sure how parents will respond. The younger the kids are, the harder it is [to change].”
Rodriguez hopes the bill will bring more support to middle and elementary schools to teach students proper behavior as early as possible.
“As far as teachers, we talk about it, most everybody wanted to help and make sure they understand,” she said. “Some teachers are uncomfortable, including some that may have “funny” comments. But, change is coming, as it does over time.”
While change is coming, Gemino warned of an issue that could possibly stand as an obstacle to removing the stigma around providing resources to LGBTQ resources at more schools.
“As we become more progressive in handling these issues, there’s always backlash that can be harmful,” he said.