|13-year old Seth Walsh took his own life in 2010 after years of anti-gay harassment at school.
On Monday, July 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony Sethâ€™s Law (AB 9), authored by Assemblymember Ammiano (D-San Francisco). Sethâ€™s Law seeks to create a safer school environment by providing California schools with the tools to address the pervasive problem of school bullying. The bill is co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBT equality, including Equality California, the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and The Trevor Project.
The bill is named in memory of 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. Wendy Walsh, Sethâ€™s mother, has provided powerful testimony in support of the bill. â€śI canâ€™t bring my son back. But the California legislature can make a difference to protect young people across our state just like Seth who are or are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,â€ť she said. â€śSchools 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.â€ť
â€śAs 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,â€ť said Ammiano. â€śSethâ€™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.â€ť
â€śAll students deserve to receive an education without fearing for their safety because of who they are,â€ť said Roland Palencia, executive director of Equality California. â€śSethâ€™s law will provide schools with the knowledge and tools they need to prevent bullying. We thank Assemblymember Ammiano, Assembly Speaker PĂ©rez, the LGBT Caucus, and allied lawmakers for championing this critical piece of legislation.â€ť
AB 9 would ensure that every school in California implements updated anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies that include actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, and religion or association with one or more of these groups. It would also inform students and parents of their rights and how to address incidents of bullying.
Over the past several months Sethâ€™s Law has raised an important discussion about the need to help schools protect LGBT students and other vulnerable youth from bullying. While California already prohibits school harassment, schools often do not have the tools or knowledge to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and others from bullying, which remains a serious issue across the state and the rest of the nation. Students, parents, and school employees often do not know what the rules are or what to do if bullying occurs.
In a recent national survey, nine out of ten LGBT students reported being harassed at school. The problem persists in California as well, with LGBT students reporting significant harassment. The California Safe Schools Coalition reported in 2010 that 42% of California students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 62% who identify as transgender reported being harassed at least once.
According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 27% of students who reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation said they missed school at least one day during the past 30 because they felt unsafe. Increased truancy rates lead to a lack of funding for schools.
Besides truancy, the consequences of bullying and harassment can include falling grades, depression, and risk of suicide. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.
â€śBullying can have serious and tragic consequences, particularly for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,â€ť said Carolyn Laub, executive director of Gay- Straight Alliance Network. â€śWe must take proactive steps to ensure that Californiaâ€™s schools are safe for every student.
Sethâ€™s Law will provide critical support for student activists in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs across the state working to make their schools safer.â€ť
â€śChildren should never fear going to school, and yet that is the daily reality for thousands of California students who face relentless harassment and bullying,â€ť said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. â€śWe must do everything we can to address the root causes of bullying and create inclusive and respectful school environments.â€ť
â€śWhen schools have the resources to protect young people who are bullied or harassed, it greatly affects the psychological wellbeing of all students, including LGBT students,â€ť said David McFarland, interim executive director of The Trevor Project. â€śWhen passed, Sethâ€™s Law will help encourage a safer and healthier school environment, benefitting all California youth.â€ť
â€śPublic schools have tremendous power and responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment,â€ť said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU of California. â€śBetter school procedures and policies to prevent and address bullying will make a safer environment for students who are suffering.â€ť