Over 300 lesbian, gay, bisexual transgendered youth and their supporters roamed the halls of the State Capitol on Wednesday, January 3rd, for the first ever citizen lobby day devoted solely to the issues of queer youth, according to Ellen McCormick of LIFE Lobby.
LIFE is California's only statewide advocacy organization for lesbian, gay and HIV/AIDS communities.
After an orientation and briefing in the Capitol, a lunchtime rally was held on the Capitol Steps. Speakers at the rally included Assembly member Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), Brandon Dean Taylor -- a victim of gay bashing at his local high school, Forrest Swartout -- a 17 year old lesbian activist, Alex Garner -- a Latino AIDS youth educator from San Diego, and performance artist Clint Catalyst. Noted novelist Patricia Neil Warren, author of The Front Runner, also spoke at the rally.
Throughout the afternoon, every State Senator and State Assembly member was visited by a youth contingent. According to McCormick, some offices were less than welcoming to the youth lobbyists.
"One office, State Senator Rob Hurtt, had posted security guards outside his office to discourage queer youth visitors. Another office initially refused to meet with constituents who had traveled 300 miles to visit. But the youth activists and their allies refused to be ignored. They were polite, respectful, and insistent on being heard," she said.
"Youth Lobby Day" organizers specifically called for the passage of pending legislation that would protect public school students from discrimination based on sexual orientation (AB 1001) and provide life-saving HIV/AIDS education to 5th and 6th grade students (SB 101). Other demands included the reform or replacement of current textbooks (which either ignore or berate homosexuality), support for affirmative action policies, and protection from organizations that discriminate against gay youth (including the Boy Scouts and JROTC).
The San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD/SFBA), applauded the effort to empower youth and focus attention on California's "dismal record of disregard for lesbian and gay students."
"Because of its economic clout, the State does influence educational policy across the nation," said GLAAD spokesperson Al Kielwasser, "but California is in no way a leader in public education." "The State's know-nothing approach to homosexuality has only promoted the ignorance of homophobia -- and taught generations of children to hate."
GLAAD noted that California's textbooks and curriculum frameworks lag far behind the equity standards set by leading professional associations which have drafted policy statements supporting multicultural/inclusive curricula and educational equity for lesbians and gays.
Laurie McBride, LIFE's Executive Director, said she was awed by the poise and eloquence exhibited by the participating students. "They told their personal stories of physical violence, suicide attempts, depression, isolation, loneliness. They told of their need for aggressive HIV prevention campaigns, and their lives as HIV-positive teenagers."
"The future of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community is in good hands," she concluded.