"Hey, ACLU, I'm a gay ninth-grader. My teachers don't treat me differently because of my gender expression. I have both gay and straight friends. I get to live my life without being discriminated against. I've never been bullied. And I feel safe at school every day."
We've never gotten that call here at the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) LGBTQ Student Rights Project. More often, we get calls about incidences of school bullying that no one should have to endure. We hear from students who face judgmental teachers, unsympathetic principals, and ineffective superintendents, while being harassed by their peers on a daily basis. We work toward a future that promises that all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, feel safe expressing themselves.
But trying to address all the calls we get about anti-LGBTQ bullying feels like treating the symptoms without addressing the illness. The real issue is this: How do we stop the calls from coming in?
The solution to the national bullying problem isn't being a bystander until something bad happens. Just like the world's best ambulance driver can't prevent a drunk driver from getting behind the wheel, the most experienced lawyer can't stop students from bullying their peers. We have to teach school officials how to address issues of unsafe school climates before harassment starts or escalates.
Our LGBTQ Student Rights Project works with schools to create safe school environments. We educate schools on LGBTQ student rights, about the preventative policies and procedures they should adopt to avoid finding themselves in a courtroom, and we connect them to the community.
The course's video lectures and interviews instruct teachers how to intervene in bullying situations and how to create teachable moments. Most important, it teaches the steps educators can take to preventing bullying and harassment before it starts.
These programs make a difference in students' lives, but they depend on school cooperation to make these changes. How do we get schools to take a stance against bullying?
It starts with you: parents and their children need to become the anti- bullying champions of their own school experiences. All across California, students have the right to feel safe in their schools, and their parents have the right to demand it. Families in our community must knock on their principals' and superintendents' doors with these tools in hand and tell them that we aren't going to wait to end bullying until after another tragedy occurs.
The LGBT Rights Project of the ACLU/SC has a long-standing commitment to LGBT equality, including obtaining Christopher Street West's first permit to allow the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade.
James Gilliam is the Director of the ACLU/SC's LGBT Rights Project and reminds schools of their obligations to protect LGBTQ students and their rights.
Joey Hernández is the full-time staff for the ACLU/SC's LGBTQ Student Rights Project, advocating with school administrators and school district officials to improve school climates.
Welcoming Schools is an LGBT inclusive curriculum for K-5 grade levels that has created an open and welcoming space for LGBT students.
GLSEN's 2009 Climate Survey includes instrumental research findings regarding queer youth and reinforces the reasons why LGBTQ students need continued support in their schools.
GLSEN's 'Ready, Set, Respect!' program initiates dialogue on how to talk about multi-faceted identities and how to teach acceptance in an intolerant community.
GSA Network is a direct organizer of LGBTQ students and has helped defeat homophobia and transphobia in California public schools since 1998.
Project SPIN is a committee of LGBT specific and LGBT inclusive organizations that have come together to create a safe and inclusive school environment for all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Judy Chiasson from the Los Angeles Unified School District's office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity has been instrumental in creating safe spaces for students throughout Los Angeles by addressing their specific needs and advocating for inclusive policies.
Stephen Jimenez, LAUSD's Project 10 Specialist, has dedicated his career to educating his colleagues on how to work with and respect the rights of LGBTQ students by providing trainings that address anti-gay school climates.
Dr. Karyl Ketchum and the ACLU/SC work together to bring to the community awareness of life-changing policies that help protect LGBTQ students.