FROM THE LGBTQ CENTER | With an increased awareness of bullying in our schools we are no longer able to ignore the fact that those youth with actual or perceived Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender (LGBT) identities are more likely to become victims of this abuse at schools. As a leader among the states, California has enacted some of the most progressive laws concerning the protection and inclusion of LGBT youth in public schools.
In the past four years, the state has enacted stronger anti-bullying legislation with Seth’s Law (AB 9), which requires schools to adopt a specific process for reviewing and investigating bullying complaints, as well as protections for transgender and gender nonconforming youth with the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266).
Also, as a way to expose all youth to LGBT identities, in addition to giving LGBT students a degree of representation in their classrooms, the FAIR Education Act (SB 48) calls for inclusion of important LGBT figures in social science curriculum.
These recent pieces of legislation stem from findings that LGBT students continue to experience high volumes of both physical and verbal harassment at schools which negatively affects student aspirations and psychological wellbeing. Most recent findings from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate survey find that, even in California, more than half of LGBT students are verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression.
Additionally the study found that, despite the state laws protecting students, there is still a need for schools to adopt comprehensive anti-harassment policies which specify protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Providing safe and inclusive educational spaces for our LGBT youth, however, is much more involved than what current state mandates can accomplish on their own. Requiring schools to adhere to these laws, and do it properly, also requires a degree of LGBT cultural competency that many schools lack.
For example, a school administrator, without proper knowledge of LGBT issues, has the potential to negatively impact the victim of anti-LGBT bullying through the use of inappropriate investigatory questions, or even possibly outing a student if they choose to involve the student’s parents.
A social science teacher with no prior exposure to LGBT history can easily provide inaccurate representations of the contributions of LGBT people.
An attendance clerk with little understanding of gender identity can unknowingly disclose the identity of a transgender student by simply placing the student’s birth name on a document.
This is not to say that the current laws in effect are not helpful (they are) or that school staff is incompetent (they are not). We first have to acknowledge that, for many educators, LGBT-specific issues are a very new and possibly foreign topic, and understanding LGBT identities can be complex.
Some districts that have recognized this fact and have taken steps to increase the knowledge of their staff. One such district is Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD).
With the support of the school board, our local school district has prioritized the safety and inclusion of LGBT students on their campuses in several ways. Three key ways they have done so are:
- Resources for educators: LBUSD consistently has resources available for their school sites to use, such as the GLSEN Safe Space Kit. Additionally, the district has partnered with The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach to create a guidebook for working with transgender students, which was distributed to each of their teachers.
- Training for staff: Over the past 3 years, LBUSD has brought in specialists to perform safe space trainings at each of their high schools. Additionally, they continue to offer a 2-day LGBT professional development trainings to both educators and support staff.
- Visibility of support: LBUSD has been incredibly vocal about their support of LGBT students and for the past 2 years they have participated in the Long Beach Pride Parade.
While LBUSD has been one of the more progressive districts in the state in this manner, it is important to recognize that the district has a community of support as well. Many districts lack the type of resources that are available to LBUSD, and may get pushback from their communities as they try to engage in discussions over LGBT issues.
To help resolve the issues of culturally competent care for LGBT students in schools, a new bill has been introduced the State Senate by Assembly member Patrick O’Donnell. The Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 827) would require public school educators to receive training and resources to assist LGBT youth. The future of this bill is still unknown, but at the very least the bill has initiated a conversation at the state level about a more well-rounded approach to serving LGBT youth.
Joel Gemino is the Youth Services Manager at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach. Gemino has been mentoring and educating youth since 2005 when he began working at Chaffey High School in his hometown of Ontario. He is currently working with LBUSD to create a safe and affirming environment for LGBTQ youth in the Greater Long Beach area.