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