More than 50 high school students from across California are in Sacramento April 29 to advocate for three bills that would help ensure all youth, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, have the opportunity to be themselves at school, do well and graduate. The youth are gathered for the 9th annual Queer Youth Advocacy Day, which unites LGBT and straight ally youth activists from Gay-Straight Alliance clubs across state.
“Our goal is the same as our peers’: we wish to graduate high school and be successful, but bullying and unreasonable school discipline policies stand in the way of our every chance,” said Pat Cordova-Goff, a Gay-Straight Alliance Network youth leader who partly credits the School Success and Opportunity Act, a law passed after last year’s Queer Youth Advocacy Day, with her ability to be herself and do well in school this year. “There is no excuse to deny LGBTQ students or any youth the same opportunities to learn as their peers, and we are asking legislators to take a stand in support of all California youth.”
Students will rally at the State Capitol on the lawn area near L Street, between 12th and 13th Streets (also called Area 22 on some State Capitol maps) at 10:45 a.m. where they will be joined by a number of Senators and Assemblymembers. Planned speakers include: Senators Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles).
Following the rally, students will visit their representatives’ offices to advocate for three bills that would help students stay in school: Reducing the Use of Costly and Harsh Discipline (AB 420), Ensure School Safety (SB 840), and Fair and Successful School Transfers (SB 1111). More than 75 visits have been scheduled to take place.
SB 840, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, improves the handling of bullying and bias-based harassment. The bill was prompted by a report released by the State Auditor last August, “School Safety and Nondiscrimination Laws,” which found that school bullying prevention efforts are falling short. Senator Lara also authored SB 1111, which helps ensure that students being temporarily placed in county community schools have a successful transfer to and from those schools. Assemblymember Dickinson’s AB 420 would limit the use of suspension and expulsion for “willful defiance,” a category used in 40% of California suspensions that can mean anything from a lesbian student holding her girlfriend’s hand to a gender nonconforming student breaking the school’s dress code.
Involuntary transfers, inadequate school responses to bias-based bullying, and the overuse and discriminatory application of suspensions are all barriers to young people working hard to stay in school and graduate. Together, hostile school environments and extreme disciplinary policies push LGBTQ youth and youth of color out of school, denying them the opportunity to learn and succeed.
“Queer Youth Advocacy Day not only empowers young LGBT people to demand full and lasting equality, it helps give them to the tools to achieve it,” said John O’Connor, Equality California executive director. “We see Queer Youth Advocacy Day as a vital part of EQCA Institute’s educational mission, and we’re thrilled to work with the next generation of advocates for LGBT equality.”
Queer Youth Advocacy Day is organized and sponsored by Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Transgender Law Center, Equality California, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. For more than a decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor 96 pieces of pro-equality legislation. EQCA continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. www.eqca.org
Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network) is a national youth leadership organization that empowers youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools by training student leaders and supporting student-led Gay-Straight Alliance clubs throughout the country. In California alone, GSA Network has brought GSA clubs to 61% of public high schools, impacting more than 1.2 million students at 940 schools. GSA Network’s youth advocates have played a key role in changing laws and policies that impact youth at the local and state level. GSA Network operates the National Association of GSA Networks, which unites 39 statewide networks of GSA clubs throughout the country. www.gsanetwork.org
Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. www.transgenderlawcenter.org
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California is part of the nationwide, nonpartisan organization with more than 550,000 members across the country dedicated to the defense and promotion of the guarantees of individual liberty secured by state and federal Constitutions and civil rights statutes. www.ACLU.org