AB 222 (Kuehl) Would Prohibit Harassment in Schools Based on Sexual Orientation
On Monday, March 22, 1999, over 600 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth and their allies from around the state traveled to Sacramento to lobby the state legislature on AB 222 (Kuehl), the "Dignity for All Students Act." Prior to afternoon legislative visits, students held a Noon rally on the West Steps of the State Capitol. The events were all part of the 4th Annual Youth Lobby Day.
Students in California's public schools and community colleges will be protected from anti-gay discrimination and harassment by legislation reintroduced by Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica). Currently the California Education Code recognizes that every student has the right to educational opportunity without regard to "race, creed, color, national origin, sex, or economic status." This legislation adds "sexual orientation" to those sections of the Education Code that now protect students from other forms of discrimination.
Rally speakers included Robert Ryan, 17, President of the Sierra High School Gay Straight Alliance in Manteca, who awoke one morning to find the bodies of mutilated animals placed in his front yard. The incident is currently being investigated as a hate crime. In addition, Assemblymembers Kuehl and Carole Migden and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, all of whom are joint co-authors of AB 222, addressed the rally.
Assemblymember Kuehl introduced similar legislation in the 1995-1996 and the 1997-1998 Legislative Sessions. The bill failed passage in the Assembly in 1997 after a long and passionate floor debate. At that time, Kuehl promised to bring the legislation back until it became law. During the last campaign, now Governor Gray Davis promised to sign the legislation protecting students from discrimination if it arrived on his desk.
In addition to members of the State Legislature, students also visited the offices of Governor Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.
According to Kuehl, "This bill is about making certain these students have equal access to education. These young people suffer everyday from violence and harassment. You can't concentrate, you can't learn, and you can never reach your full potential if you're always frightened and made to feel ashamed. All children deserve the dignity of an education free from discrimination, violence, and harassment."
According to one study, 22.2% of lesbian and gay youth skip school each month because they fear for their safety on the school grounds.
"With educational reform the top priority of the Legislature and the Governor," said Kuehl, "it is important to remember that you cannot improve the quality of education for all students with out first making it safe for students to attend school free from harassment and discrimination."