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Rural school talk includes LGBT issues

by Seth Hemmelgarn

State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) recently held a roundtable discussion at a rural high school on supporting LGBTQ youth in schools.

The discussion, which took place at San Benito High School in Hollister, about two and a half hours south of San Francisco, included topics ranging from pronoun usage to laws meant to protect students from harassment and discrimination.

At the event, which the Bay Area Reporter viewed via a livestream, Thurmond, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction in June, said that he saw the January 5 talk as part of an "ongoing conversation about the role that education and educators play in addressing hate" and "how we support all of our students and how we support LGBTQ students."

He said that since the racist, anti-Semitic riots in August in Charlottesville, Virginia, "We've continued to see more and more acts of hate," and "more acts of aggression," including against LGBTQ youth.

San Benito County schools Superintendent Krystal Lomanto said that she wants to ensure "we provide a safe environment for every student."

The high school where the roundtable took place serves about 3,000 students, said Lomanto.

"We need our kids to know that no matter what, when they walk on a school campus, they are safe," she said.

One question is, "How do we support our students in an environment right now that isn't always conducive" to youth feeling safe, she said, adding, "We want them to be thriving young adults."

Mckinzie Lothrop, president of the school's gay-straight alliance, said that work is being done to educate people on issues, including pronoun usage and ensuring that students feel safe when using campus restrooms.

"Hate and fear is all rooted in a lack of education, so my goal is to educate people on different issues," said Lothrop. "With education comes understanding, and with understanding comes acceptance."

Jo Michael, legislative manager for the LGBT advocacy group Equality California, said the organization is "striving to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ people."

Michael said that harassment and discrimination impact students' chances of being successful in school. He pointed to laws that EQCA has backed, including the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, which required school districts to teach students about LGBT individuals and people with disabilities.

"It really does matter," said Michael.

Pronouns and terminology also came up in the discussion.

Erik Martinez, program manager for LGBTQ Support Services at San Francisco Unified School District, talked about how when mistakes in pronoun usage are made, "how do you immediately own it and move forward?"

Joel Baum, senior director of professional development for the nonprofit Gender Spectrum, said when someone intentionally refuses to use proper pronouns, it's "very much a hostile act."

"Students know the difference between someone who makes an honest mistake and someone who's being hostile," said Baum.

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