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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


California Must Meet Commitment to Gay Youth

[LOS ANGELES, CA] - California should remedy gaps in its efforts to end anti-gay bias in state schools, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the legislature to fund efforts to provide training to school districts and monitor compliance with the law.

The California state senate's Select Committee on School Safety held a hearing today in Los Angles on school safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in the school system, at which Human Rights Watch testified. In 2001, Human Rights Watch published a book-length report, "Hatred in the Hallways," on the issue. "California took a positive step toward improving the experiences of its LGBT young people when it passed the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000," said Kate Frankfurt, an advocate in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "But having a law on the books is not enough. The state must now take steps to ensure that the law is enforced on a daily basis."

The state enacted legislation in October 1999 to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. At today's hearing, however, students, school administrators and advocates described a continuing climate of hostility and said that many school officials remain unaware of their legal obligation to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Lawmakers heard from officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, who described a model anti-bias training program developed in collaboration with Human Rights Watch and local community groups. A Contra Costa County principal spoke his school's efforts to help staff and students to understand the needs of three students who identified as transgender.

But these efforts cannot readily be replicated elsewhere without state support, Human Rights Watch said. It urged the state legislature to provide funding for the State Department of Education to develop and distribute training materials. The group also called on the legislature to establish effective monitoring and compliance mechanisms and require training on the needs of LGBT youth as part of the teacher certification process.

The failure to protect students can lead to costly litigation. In the Visalia School District, for example, officials recently agreed to pay $450,000 to students who were subjected to constant harassment from fellow students as well as school staff.

In addition to California, seven other jurisdictions-Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia-have laws that expressly protect youth from harassment or discrimination in public schools based on sexual orientation. Of those, Minnesota, New Jersey and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Senator Sheila Kuehl, who chairs the Select Committee on School Safety and presided over today's hearing, was the principal sponsor of the California legislation.

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