"Seth's Law", Anti-Bullying Legislation Introduced in California Assembly

Posted on 14 March 2011

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By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

Today, California's openly gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 9, anti-bullying legislation known as "Seth's Law," aimed at providing California schools with "specific tools" to prevent and address pervasive bullying and create a safe education environment for all of the State's students.

"Seth's Law" was named in memory of Seth Walsh (pictured on right), a 13 year-old gay student from Tehachapi, California, who killed himself in September 2010 after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school that officials effectively ignored.

AB 9 is co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBT equality and justice – including the ACLU’s California Affiliates, Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

“Public schools have tremendous power and responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment,” claims Elizabeth Gill, Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Better school procedures and policies to prevent and address bullying will make a safer environment for students who are suffering, and can even save lives.”

“Bullying can have serious and tragic consequences, particularly for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “We must take pro-active steps to ensure that California’s schools are safe for every student. Seth’s Law will help schools protect students, and prevent and respond to bullying before a tragedy occurs.”

According to Ammiano's office, schools often do not have the tools or knowledge to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and others from bullying and contends such harassment remains a serious issue across California and the rest of the nation.

If passed and signed into law by Governor Brown, AB 9 would ensure that every school in California implements updated anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and programs that include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, as well as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability, and religion, according to Ammiano's office. It would also empower students and parents to know what their rights are, and how to advocate for them, stated Ammiano's press release for AB 9.

Ammiano claims that a recent national survey found nine out of 10 LGBT students reported being harassed at school. The problem persists in California as well, with LGBT students reporting significant harassment. The California Safe Schools Coalition reported  in 2010 that 42% of California students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and 62% who identify as transgender reported being harassed at least once based on gender non-conformity.

Ammiano also contends young people often face bullying and harassment based on what their peers perceive to be their sexual orientation, regardless of whether they identify as being LGBT. According to the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey 12% of 7th graders and 10% of 9th graders reported being harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

The consequences of bullying and harassment can include falling grades, depression, and risk of suicide. LGBT youth are three times as likely to seriously consider suicide as heterosexual youth.

"No child should fear going to school, and yet that is the daily reality for thousands of California students who face relentless harassment and bullying," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. "It's our responsibility to make sure schools are taking active steps to address this problem and using the tools that we know will work to create true change.  It is not enough to punish students who bully. We must create a school-wide culture of inclusion and respect for difference."


Dan Aiello reports for the California Progress Report.

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I wish the Legislature and the Attorney General's office would require California state agencies to address LGBT bullying in the programs they administer.

Consider the case of the Mission Gardens Apartments in Santa Cruz, California. It is managed by The John Stewart Company (JSCO) and administered by the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) under contract to HUD.

The Mission Gardens Apartments is not safe for (perceived) LGBT residents. A small gang of adult predators stalk the complex, attacking those they perceive to be LGBT.

I have been taunted and threatened with homophobic profanities. My sister's car was vandalized with a gay hate symbol. Worst, this gang of predators has been spreading vicious lies using the crudest of homophobic stereotypes that I am a danger to resident children.

JSCO, fearing a lawsuit, denies all of this in the face of contradictory objective evidence. CalHFA deflects responsibility onto JSCO and the owners (who do nothing).

Objective evidence of this has been provided to CalHFA. It's time for those running state government to require CalHFA to stamp out LGBT hate at its housing projects, to stamp out LGBT hate at the Mission Gardens Apartments.

Proposed law on bullying is very good and needed; however, legislators should take the pledge of abstaining introducing all new laws until the budget is done.

It has ben suggested that legislators should be limited to 4 or 5 pieces of legislaion a session.

Some Bay Area legislators (e.g. Mary Hayashi) are on the the list of those who initiate the largest number of laws on behalf of rich supporters.

My son was bullied, with no rhyme reason or proof, as his mom I didnt care about his sexual gender preference because frankly I carried him for 10 months I raised him to be a good man, and because of one twit it was taken away...These kids arent asking you to except them,they JUST want to LIVE THEIR LIVES...BACK OFF...

Good law, but legislators should not introduce any legislation until they do their budget duty.

Some have suggested that legislators be limited as to the number of bills they can introduce in a session. (maye four or five). Some also introduce an inordinate number of bills for special interest supporters. Mary Hayashi is on the top of the list for Bay Area legislators who reward their rich supporters.

Although the issue of bullying in schools needs to be addressed, AB 9 proposes resolutions that are disproportionally large to the problem at hand. It requires training for all teachers in bullying intervention under a state-mandated program, which would pull more desperately-needed money away from what school is intended to do: teach. It would also compel teachers to report all bullying they see based on discrimination. Teachers are there to instruct our children, not to solve their problems for them. The procedures proposed in AB 9 regarding reporting bullying and response to complaints will suffice if used appropriately in cases which bullying gets out-of-hand and threatens psychological or physical harm to the victim. In other cases, children may just have to learn the old-fashioned way to stand up for themselves or to seek help when they need it. Teacher training in intervention is an unnecessary expense and, expecting them to stop all bullying places a duty on them that goes beyond their purpose.

Schools should be extremely involved, when my kids are on SCHOOL property they are in YOUR hands,as a parent UNLESS I work in the district, I have NO POWER but the schools dont care,the No Place for Hate campaign here in Canuttilo TX is a crock of BS I dont judge my FRIENDS OR my KIDS OR anyone, I dont care about the bull I love my son......

A lot of the damage is done to students who are not involved in a confrontation. It comes to something called "school climate". You may be familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Safety is fundamental to learning. You might also want to familiarize yourself better with the effects of negative climate to LGBT youth. I have been teaching high school for 26 years and yesterday I became intervened in a gay-bashing incident involving athletes, and I am deeply troubled. Now I find that on my school's website and handbooks, there has been absolutely no attempt to fullfill the spirit or letter of Seth's Law or the original 2000 law.