Viewpoints

Let’s make California schools safe and supportive for LGBTQ students

National Coming Out Day, at its core, is about making sure LGBTQ people feel safe, seen, heard and accepted.

It is a day of empowerment, a day for LGBTQ people to own their own narrative. But it’s also an important day to remember the places in which LGBTQ people don’t always feel safe and supported – like our schools. Too many students across California and the nation still face discrimination, harassment, bullying and even violence when they come out. This is an unacceptable reality in 2019.

Opinion

Over the last two decades, the California Legislature, the California Department of Education and advocates at Equality California have worked with broad coalitions to pass measures to support LGBTQ students. Policies like the FAIR Education Act and the California Healthy Youth Act are already helping to ensure that the Golden State is responsive to the needs of the estimated hundreds of thousands of students attending our public schools who identify as LGBTQ, as well as to their non-LGBTQ friends and peers.

This year, we have an opportunity to take a first step toward giving California’s public school teachers and staff the resources they need to support LGBTQ students through Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s, D-San Diego, Safe and Supportive Schools Act of 2019, which we co-sponsored.

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Tony Thurmond

But even with the governor’s signature, our work is not finished. In times of need or crisis, students often turn to their schools and their teachers for support. Indeed, teachers are on the frontlines of ensuring every child feels welcome at school. But to do so, they need adequate training and support. It’s time we empower California educators by working with them to ensure they have what they need to support LGBTQ students who may face bullying or harassment at school, at home or in the broader community.

Our work can’t end at the state Capitol, either. Despite the numerous state laws that have been enacted to protect all students in California – regardless of background, zip code, sexual orientation or gender identity – we know that they are not being implemented the same way in every school district. Equality California Institute’s recently released Safe and Supportive Schools Report Card illustrates as much.

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Rick Zbur

All 343 unified school districts throughout California were asked to report on a series of metrics to assess how each district has implemented policies, programs and curriculum for its LGBTQ students and staff. While not all districts participated in the survey, 130 unified school districts did. Some reported that they have made great strides, while others reported that much work remains to be done, signaling a commitment to transparency and to improve school climate for all their students.

While the term report card might carry mixed emotions, this was never intended to be simply a grading exercise. Rather, the goal was to give districts a comprehensive checklist, a list of everything they can and should be doing to improve school climate for LGBTQ students on their campuses. The scores are also a clear demonstration that all school districts – be they in rural Visalia, suburban Laguna Beach or urban San Francisco, all of whose unified school districts got top ratings – have the ability to do this.

This legislation and the report card go hand in hand in providing the tools and training our teachers need – and want – to protect all of our students. Passage of the Safe and Supportive Schools Act and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature will signal a historic commitment to providing training to California schools to better support our LGBTQ students.

Tony Thurmond is California’s state superintendent of public instruction. He also previously served in the California Assembly from 2014 to 2018 and on the West Contra Costa School Board from 2008 to 2012. Rick Zbur is the executive director of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization.
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