Monday, November 9, 2015

We Have to Give Them Hope – and Real Change

LGBTQ youth who began high school in the San Diego Unified School District back in 2010 were hopeful.

The school board and superintendent had just agreed to a policy prohibiting bullying, harassment and intimidation, a policy that – due to a great deal of work
included LGBTQ students. SDUSD is the second largest school district in the state, so the victory was an important one.

The district formed a Safe Schools Task Force that included educators, community members and other school personnel – all focused on implementation of real changes in the reporting and addressing of bullying/harassment incidents. These changes would ensure that district educators, staff and administrators would have the training they needed to create welcome and safe environments for LGBTQ students. It would also help to ensure that the curriculum was changed to include representation of LGBTQ lives and histories.

But all that was five years ago. Those youth who began high school back then have already graduated or left school without ever seeing the real changes they hoped for.
While the world seemed to change greatly for LGBTQ adults, for our youth, precious little has changed in the environment in which they spend seven to nine hours a day.

Five years. During that time, there have been many meetings, many discussions of plans, many expressions of good will and intentions. There have been changes in superintendents, changes in school board members, changes in school personnel. Despite the passage of the 2011 FAIR Act in California, students still have few, if any, opportunities to learn about the lives and histories of LGBT figures or heroes. Their culture and their lives remain invisible.

Five years. After four years, an actual anti-harassment policy was finalized. But real-world enforcement and application of that policy is hardly evident. Too little has actually changed in the experiences of our youth in schools – experiences we know are too often painful and damaging.

After five years, youth – and their parents – remain unable to easily file complaints. Educators continue to be untrained and without access to information that can make them a part of the solution (with the exception of those who have actively sought it out, which is not nearly enough). Too many of our youth continue to miss days of school because they can’t face the environment. Continue to drop out prematurely. Continue to underachieve because they are forced to endure an environment that feels hostile and unsafe.

Five years. That is, quite simply, too long to wait for basic dignity and compliance. The conditions in our schools for LGBTQ youth were unacceptable before the policy changes were agreed to. We can’t wait anymore. The planning, talking and meeting was important, but it’s not enough. It’s time for action.

In May of this year, the San Diego LGBT Community Leadership Council sent the superintendent a letter on behalf of the more than 40 LGBTQ and allied organizations indicating that it was critical that we see progress on the seven enumerated priority items (see below). To date, some have been or are in the process of implementation – the three most important have not yet even begun.

Reporting. Training. Inclusive curriculum. Our youth can’t wait five more years.

May 14, 2015

1. Begin and continue comprehensive training for all staff, educators and administrators on LGBTQ issues, including the disparities created in educational environments (drop-out, achievement gaps) and challenges to student safety posed by harassment, bullying and intimidation.   

2. Immediately design and implement real-time electronic reporting of discrimination, harassment, bullying and safety concerns that is easily accessible and promoted widely throughout the schools/classrooms. This reporting should include options for text/e-mail/phone responses and be available to both students and parents. 

3. Begin to implement LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in all grades, consistent with the FAIR Act requirements. 

4. Establish and fund at least one dedicated senior staff position to assist in training and implementation of LGBTQ initiatives. This staff member would be at a senior level, would be LGBTQ competent and experienced in training educators/administrators regarding LGBTQ issues.
5. Create and disseminate a simple procedure protocol for all staff and educators to use when a harassment/bullying incident occurs or has been reported. 

6. Establish and implement a standardized school climate survey administered to students annually to determine baseline experiences and safety. 

7. Using the survey described above, establish annual progress goals for safety and improvement over baseline for each school.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Right to Pee in Peace

See the press release from EQCA posted below this note for information regarding the proposed anti-LGBT ballot measure that many fear will, after Houston, gather enough signatures to put it on the California ballot. If that is indeed true, it will take all of us working together to educate our communities to fight it.

Over and over, the LGBTQ battle against discrimination has faced the same groups using similar fear-based hate tactics. Groups who use family and children as the centerpiece of their campaigns, pretending to be protecting them even as they cause real children to suffer - our children. Part of their tactic is an attempt to split off voters of color, whom they hope will be unaware of the devastating and ongoing violence directed against so many transwomen of color.

The problem is simple. Given the American tradition of gender-separating group restrooms for adults, where should transgender and gender-non-conforming folks pee?

Should Caitlyn Jenner use the men’s room? Should the man with a beard use the ladies room even if that is not how they identify? Letting people use the restrooms they wish based on their own gender identity makes the most sense. But in Houston anti-LGBT groups flooded the airwaves with TV ads designed to frighten people with fabricated “dangers,” insisting that an individual’s genitalia match the sign on the door or else… “Very Bad Things Will Happen.” In California they are seeking to install gender-policing in restrooms and to criminalize peeing.

The facts and issues are simple, but only for those who know them. Transgender and gender non-conforming children and adults have the right to pee in peace; without fear, without harassment, without discrimination - without hate and fear-based political campaigns. Sounds simple? Sure, but we know that the issues are only simple for those who have been educated about them.

To educate all Californians well, we have to be working in coalition. We have to be on the ground, talking to our families, our friends, our neighbors and our partners in the fight for justice. We hope that as all of our partners become educated about this fight, they can join us in helping to educate all Californians about this issue. And we can all start today with friends and family members so that they can, in turn, reach out to and educate others.

I never believed I’d have to call for basic bathroom justice but transgender and gender non-conforming folks are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends. They are our family members. They are our children! We must let them #peeinpeace with #basichumandignity.

November 3, 2015

CONTACT: Jason Howe, Equality California
PHONE: 323-848-9801 MOBILE: 415-595-9245
CONTACT: Jill Marcellus, Transgender Law Center
PHONE: 415-865-0176 x310 MOBILE: 516-313-9659

California Civil Rights Coalition Prepared for Battle Following Houston LGBT Vote

Los Angeles — Following the loss of a ballot referendum that would have upheld the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a coalition of California civil rights and LGBT organizations is cautioning supporters to prepare for a similar fight against a potential anti-LGBT ballot initiative in California

HERO protected Houstonians from discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces across 15 classes, including race, gender, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy. Houston is the largest city in America that does not have these protections already in place. Much of the campaign to overturn HERO centered on targeting transgender people and denying them the right to use public restrooms.  

"As visibility and understanding of transgender people and issues increase, a small group of extremists are using lies and scare tactics to try to turn back the tide of acceptance. They won by mounting an ugly and deceptive campaign in Houston, and no doubt they will try it again in California and other parts of the country," said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. "Despite these efforts and today's vote, more and more people are recognizing transgender people for who we truly are – neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends."

Right-wing activists in California and elsewhere have increasingly targeted the transgender community, proposing a spate of bills that would prohibit them from using public bathrooms and public facilities.  The same group that previously unsuccessfully attempted to overturn AB 1266, allowing transgender students to participate in school programs and use facilities corresponding to their gender, is collecting signatures to place another measure on California's November, 2016 ballot.  The group is backed by the right-wing, Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute and other supporters of Proposition 8.

"We fully expect our opponents to use the same misinformation and scare tactics in California that they used in Houston," said Rick Zbur, executive director of coalition member Equality California.  "Since they can no longer stop same-sex couples from getting married, this is the next page in their attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community. That's why this is an attack on both transgender people and the LGBT community as a whole."

California's transgender discrimination initiative goes even farther than efforts in other states, prohibiting transgender people from using facilities in government buildings and requiring the government to monitor bathroom use. It would also allow anyone offended by the presence of an individual in a restroom to sue that person for a $4,000 in damages, as well as attorney's fees.  Government analysts say the measure could cost California millions of dollars every year in legal expenses and lost federal funding. 

The coalition consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Transgender Law Center, as well as a steering committee of organizations representing diverse communities throughout California.

Backers of the initiative have until December 21 to collect the 365,880 signatures needed to place the proposal on the 2016 ballot.