On Monday, April 4, about 70 LGBT and ally high school students from around California participated in the annual Queer Youth Advocacy Day, first rallying on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento and then lobbying legislators on key legislation to stop bullying and make schools safer for LGBT youth: Seth's Law (AB9); the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act (SB 48); and the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887).
Queer Youth Advocacy Day in Sacramento April 4, 2011
State Sen. Mark Leno said in a statement:
"Especially given the tragic suicides of numerous young people in the past year, it is crucial that legislators hear and understand the stories of youth who are working in their schools and their communities to combat bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. I am inspired by the passion and resolve that these students have brought to Sacramento with their unified goal to make California a safer place for all young people."
Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, said:
"Bullying and harassment continue to be a pervasive problem in California schools, with heartbreaking consequences. Youth leaders from Gay-Straight Alliance clubs across the state are here today to say, 'enough.' They are telling their stories to lawmakers who have the opportunity to make it better for LGBT youth by supporting the FAIR Education Act, Seth's Law, and the Gender Nondiscrimination Act."
And legislators listened. On Tuesday, April 5, the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 877) by a vote of 7-1 and late Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the FAIR Education Act (SB 48) by a closer margin, 3-2. The bills each go to their respective floors for a vote, then on to the other chamber. Seth's Law (AB9) will be heard April 13 in the Assembly Education committee.
Assemblymember Toni Atkins QYAD
AB 877, authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and is sponsored by Equality California and co-sponsored by the Transgender Law Center, would strengthen civil rights protections for transgenders and gender non-conformists by specifically including them as protected categories in exisiting non-discrimination laws and clarifying that gender identity and expression are part of the definition of gender and sex in all California codes.
Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, said in his testimony:
“All hardworking people in California, including transgender people, should have the chance to earn a living and provide for their families. The Gender Nondiscrimination Act would strength existing protections and ensure that confusing legal language does not come between transgender people and our rights.”
Atkins said in a statement:
“I am very pleased that the Gender Nondiscrimination Act advanced today.This bill affirms that California does not discriminate, and it is an important step to ensure equal protection under the law for all Californians.”
Equality California Interim Executive Director Jim Carroll said:
“Transgender Californians need and deserve non-discrimination protections; to be treated the same way as everyone else. This bill would ensure that all Californians, including transgender people, are protected equally under employment and housing non-discrimination laws. In addition, by being clear about what the law requires, it will reduce litigation and costs to employers, landlords, and others.”
Leno's SB 48 faced opposition organized by the antigay Traditional Values Coalition and the Capitol Resource Institute, though observers say the antigay turnout was considerably less than when SB 48 was first heard in the Senate Education Committee and they were outnumbered by those favoring the bill.
Sen. Leno at QYAD
The hearing was contentious, with the opposition spewing "horrible" rhetoric, according to one observer. Testimony supporting the FAIR Education Act included Lisa Berry, a mother from the Sacramento area who lost her teenage son two and half years ago after he was consistently bullied on his high school campus. She testified about his torment - and the pain the family has experienced through his death. SB 48 was also supported by a professor of psychology, a pediatrician, representatives from LA Unified School District, other parents, religious leaders and students. The opposition included an advocate for ex-gay ministries who expressed concern that the FAIR Education Act would mean people opining in favor of ex-gay ministries would be somehow violating the law.
The party-line vote for SB 48 in the five-member Senate Judiciary committee was:
Senator Noreen Evans (Chair) -voted Aye
Senator Tom Harman (Vice Chair)-voted No
Senator Sam Blakeslee-voted No
Senator Ellen Corbett-voted Aye
Senator Mark Leno-voted Aye
After the vote, Carroll said:
"Opponents of the FAIR Education Act don't care about the safety and well being of students in our schools - LGBT or Questioning or Straight. What they care about is enforcing their narrow world view that includes open discrimination against LGBT people and they are willing to lie and use any means necessary to advance their dangerous agenda. We need all fair-minded Californians to contact their legislators today and ask them to protect youth in schools by supporting SB 48 - the FAIR Education Act."
You can watch the testimony. The hearing starts at about 1:24:00 and includes testimony from the mother who lost her teenage son to suicide after consistent bullying; http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewvideo/2256
The second link has testimony from the opposition, which starts at the beginning of the video: http://www.calchannel.com/channel/viewvideo/2257 Cross-posted at LGBT POV. Photos courtesy Charles Peer, Outword Magazine.