By Joey Hernández, LGBTQ Student Rights Advocate
After a long, lazy summer break, the first month back to school can seem like a blur of activity and excitement. But for 8 out of 10 LGBTQ students, the first month of school means getting bullied by their classmates.
8 in 10 is a lot of harassment, and I know how it feels. In middle school, I was one of those bullied kids. I was taunted, called names, and shoved through the halls. How I walked, how I held my books, and how I spoke were all ammunition for my bullies. I endured fist-fights and slurs for weeks -- until I asked for help. When I opened up to my GSA Advisor about being bullied, she directed me to all the right places. There were policies and procedures already in place to protect my safety. My principal stepped in and let me know that protecting her students was her top priority. Together, we filed a complaint and made an action plan. Supportive teachers and administrators helped me understand that my sexuality wasn’t an open invitation to getting beaten up. And for me, school became school again.
What I didn’t know then -- and what students need to know now -- is that the law is on our side. The California Education Code protects actual or perceived LGBTQ students from all forms of harassment, discrimination and bullying. Seth’s Law, which came into effect on this past July, requires teachers to intervene in instances of bullying when it’s safe to do so.
The most crucial component of learning about all the laws that protect LGBTQ students is that every student, parent and community member has a voice. All public school districts and schools are required to have a complaint process, the most common being the Uniform Complaint Form supplied by the California Department of Education. To file a complaint, all you have to do is fill out the form and give it to your principal; for more tips and information read our guide. It’s not just a piece of paper: a principal must read and address the problems outlined in the form.
The LGBTQ Students Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California works to educate the students about their rights and help make school communities safe for them to learn and grow. We strive to facilitate discussion and collaboration to protect the civil liberties of LGBTQ and allied students. Every student who is being bullied, as I once was, needs to know that they have the right to a safe school -- not a battlefield of slurs and punches.
For more information about the ACLU/SC or the LGBTQ Student Rights Project, email us at LGBTQ-SRP@aclu-sc.org.