California’s senate lawmakers passed a bill last week that will require schools to specifically enact policies against bullying related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The bill, known as AB 9 or Seth’s Law, passed the Senate in a 24 to 14 vote late Thursday. The California Assembly passed the bill in June on a 52-26 vote. The legislation now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He is expected to sign the legislation.
AB 9 is designed to ensure that every school in California implements 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. The law is also designed to give parents of children in California’s schools clearer knowledge of what to expect from school administrators when they are handling instances of bullying and ways of reporting concerns if parents think school administrators are not acting appropriately.
Seth’s Law is named after 13 year-old Seth Walsh who, because of pervasive anti-LGBT bullying, attempted suicide and died as a result of his injuries last year.
A federal investigation has since found evidence that Tehachapi school district, where Seth was a pupil, failed to take seriously reports by Seth’s friends and Seth’s mother, as well as Seth himself, that he was being bullied.
The investigation noted that, for a period stretching beyond two years, Seth was routinely verbally harassed for his gender nonconforming appearance, was touched inappropriately by other students, had food and water containers thrown at him, was made the subject of rumors and verbal assaults regarding his sexuality, and that the bullying became so bad that he ceased changing in the locker rooms as he feared for his own safety; and, while these were the more frequent incidents, this is not an exhaustive list of what 13 year-old Seth had to endure.
Administrators in the district dispute these findings but are making a number of changes including giving teachers and school staff lessons on how to best deal with instances of anti-LGBT bullying.
Currently there is no federal mandate specifically requiring schools to track and report anti-LGBT bullying, nor a framework for how to deal with such cases.
The Student Non-Discrimination ACT (SENDA), introduced in the House by Rep. Polis (D-COL), would add to existing federal statutes explicit protections against bullying on the grounds of perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
If schools receiving federal funds do not adequately combat and track incidents of anti-LGBT bullying or if school administrators are found to have discriminated against LGBT children then, under the Student Non Discrimination Act, their federal funding may be cut.
The legislation currently sits waiting to be taken up by Congress.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Cesar Augusto Serna Sz