Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Wendy Walsh and sponsoring organizations held a press conference to celebrate Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of AB 9, Seth’s Law, into law. The bill passed the Assembly 52-26 on June 1st and the Senate 24-14 on September 1st, with Governor Brown signing the bill on October 9th.
The bill is designed to address the pervasive problem of school bullying by providing California schools with tools to create a safe school environment for all students. Authored by Assemblymember Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations advancing LGBT equality, including Equality California, the ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay-Straight Alliance Network and The Trevor Project. The bill is named in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student from Tehachapi, CA, who took his life in September 2010, after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.
“I want to thank Governor Brown for signing Seth’s Law and Wendy Walsh, Seth’s mother, for her tireless advocacy in this effort. With his signature, we are showing students throughout California that schools are safe places to learn and they do not have to fear for their safety because of who they are. Seth Walsh’s legacy will live on through this bill that helps protect students by responding and preventing bullying before a tragedy occurs,” said Ammiano.
"I can’t bring my son back. But we have made a difference today to protect young people across our state just like Seth who are or are thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Schools need to take harassment and bullying seriously when parents or students tell them about it, and when they see it and hear it on the school campus," said Wendy Walsh.
“As a society, we must do a better job of protecting LGBT students and ensuring their right to an education free of intolerance and harassment,” said James Gilliam, deputy executive director of the ACLU of Southern California and director of the Seth Walsh Students’ Rights Project. “With Seth’s Law now on the books, teachers are required to intervene and stop dangerous behavior that can lead to yet another tragedy. Our hope is that we won’t have to hear of another young student taking his or her own life because of bullying.”
“Seth’s Law is an example of the type of real, serious change it takes to make it easier for at risk youth in schools to get help. The Trevor Project is invested in the safety of students and wants teachers and staff to be better prepared to address the harmful consequences of persistent bullying and harassment. Seth’s Law is an important step to keeping all California’s youth safe,” said David McFarland, Interim Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
"All students deserve a safe learning environment, free from fear and harassment," said Laura Valdez, Interim Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. "Seth's Law sends an important message that the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth is a serious problem, and one that cannot go unaddressed in our schools."
Over the past year, “Seth’s Law” has raised an important discussion about the need to help schools protect LGBT students and other vulnerable youth from bullying. While California already prohibits school harassment, schools often do not have the tools or knowledge to adequately protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and others from bullying, which remains a serious issue across state and the rest of the nation. Students, parents, and school employees often don’t know what the rules are or what to do if bullying occurs.
In a recent national survey, 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 said they had been harassed at least once based on gender non-conformity.
According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 27% of students who reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation said they missed school at least one day during the past 30 because they felt unsafe. Increased truancy rates lead to a lack of funding for schools.
Besides truancy, the consequences of bullying and harassment can include falling grades, depression, and risk of suicide. Students who reported harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation were four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.