Olsen is a public school teacher and board member of GLSEN San Diego and lives in Santee.
As a public school teacher for the past 23 years, now working in the city of San Diego, I have seen the need for our children for more love, safety and support at school, for bullying to stop, for teachers and curriculum to be reflect their families and culture, and access to social and emotional support. Despite these needs, our public educational institutions have become battlegrounds. Across the country, we are seeing an unprecedented level of anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies directed at students. These targeted attacks, fueled by conservative groups, are aimed at imposing their religious fundamentalism on our public schools. This alone should cause concern for those Americans who believe in the Constitution and the clear separation of church and state as found in the Establishment Clause and the Freedom of Exercise Clause.
What makes California and several other states unique are the laws that specifically protect our LGBTQ+ youth in our schools, but there are also many school districts in San Diego County and across the state that openly ignore and suppress these laws. Here are some of those laws:
- Seth’s Law was named after a 13-year-old student who hanged himself in 2010 after years of bullying at his school in Tehachapi. Seth’s law, passed in 2011, requires schools to post and publish listed anti-bullying policies that ensure school personnel will intervene until the bullying stops.
- The FAIR Education Act, signed into law in 2011, requires California schools to provide history and social studies instruction on the roles and contributions of people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ Americans, and other ethnic and cultural groups at all grade levels. Does the name Bayard Rustin sound familiar? He was openly gay and served as a mentor and strategist to Martin Luther King Jr., training him in Gandhi’s practices of nonviolent, peaceful resistance. He was the main organizer of the March on Washington. The FAIR Act helps our students learn about the contributions of all Americans.
- The School Success and Opportunity Act, which went into effect in 2014, mandates that students are allowed to participate in gender-segregated school programs and activities and use facilities that match their gender identity, regardless of the gender on their records. Students in California also have a constitutional right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation or gender. About five years ago, a Palmdale mother and her boyfriend were convicted of killing her son, who was regularly beaten and starved because he was gay.
Upholding California’s laws that support our LGBTQ+ youth aims to reduce suicide rates and keep our children safe. Current data from the Trevor Project’s 2022 National LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health Survey shows that 45 percent of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered a suicide attempt in the past year, with less than 1 in 3 transgender and non-binary youth feeling that their home is gender-affirming, and LGBTQ+ youth who felt their school was LGBTQ+-accepting reported lower rates of suicide attempts.
In the wake of recent allegations of racist bullying in school districts in the Inland Empire, the Precinct Reporter Group quotes Cal State University San Bernardino education professor Angela Clark-Luke as saying, “You’re going to hear the excuses, you have to give us time. You’re going to hear all kinds of things that they’re going to do, but when it’s embedded in the culture and the climate, you have to shake it up.” She recommended filing a so-called uniform complaint because it requires a formal investigation and creates a formal way to track bullying and discrimination.
A single grievance procedure is used to address unlawful discrimination (by act or omission) against any protected group. Districts are required by state law to conduct an investigation and report within 60 days, as well as take corrective action and the right to appeal to the California Department of Education. The form can be found on each district’s website or obtained from the Department of Education or the ACLU.
In the face of hate, bigotry, and politicians who use elected office and California tax dollars to advance their personal, religious, or political goals, the people of the state, who believe this place is a bastion of love, respect, and tolerance (where everything means everything) — and those who believe in the hope of a better future — must act and enforce and enforce California’s laws.
Safety, respect and inclusion are not political. Their rights are guaranteed in this great state.