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CA Bill, SF Report Aim to Support LGBTQ Students

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Emily Murase, at podium, director of San Francisco's Department on the Status of Women, recently presented the "2016 Family Violence in San Francisco" report. Also present were Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, left, and members of the Family Violence Council
Emily Murase, at podium, director of San Francisco's Department on the Status of Women, recently presented the "2016 Family Violence in San Francisco" report. Also present were Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, left, and members of the Family Violence Council  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Meanwhile, San Francisco's Family Violence Council released a report showing 21 percent of LGB students who were dating have experienced dating-related violence.

Thurmond (D-Richmond), who is running for state schools chief in June, stated that he recently heard from students, educators, and others at a town hall about needing additional support for LGBTQ students.

"There are resources available to make schools a safe place for LGBTQ students," said Thurmond in a January 29 news release announcing the bill. "This bill will train educators in the availability of both school site and community-based support systems available to LGBTQ students. All students deserve a safe and supportive school environment in which to learn."

The 2015 National School Climate Survey by the nonprofit GLSEN found that 66 percent of LGBTQ students had experienced LGBTQ-related discrimination at their schools. Many also reported physical harassment or assault.

Peer support groups and other support services are available to students and educators, and Thurmond's bill is meant to ensure educators know about them so they can connect them.

The bill would also provide for schools to get training in best practices in areas like anti-bullying and harassment policies.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality California is sponsoring the legislation.

"This is going to be a high priority bill for us," EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur told the Bay Area Reporter.

"We know that having cultural competency training for teachers and counselors and all youth-facing school staff is important to give them the tools to understand when LGBTQ students are at risk and what they need to do to address it," said Zbur. "LGBTQ students face very high rates of school dropout, suicide attempts and ideation, and bullying in schools, so this law will help address that."

There are other reasons the legislation is needed, too, he said.

"Schools are one of the safety nets for LGBTQ youth and [the bill] in part addresses the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and interaction with law enforcement that's caused by kids leaving school because of a lack of acceptance," along with the discrimination they face, said Zbur.

Many LGBTQ youth are "essentially having to live their lives without having completed school, which leads to all these other problems," he said. "A focus on our schools and making sure our schools are equipped to identify and serve LGBTQ kids is a high priority to address many of the disparities in health and well being that LGBTQ youth and all LGBTQ people experience compared to the general public."

Thurmond's office is asking community stakeholders with interest in the bill, which isn't yet numbered, to contact his Sacramento office at (916) 319-2015.

San Francisco Data

In San Francisco, educators have worked for decades to address the needs of LGBTQ students.

Last week, the city's Family Violence Council released its "2016 Family Violence in San Francisco" report, which covers data from city agencies and community-based organizations.

The report highlighted data showing that in the 2014-2015 school year, 21 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students who were dating reported experiencing sexual dating violence, while only 8 percent of heterosexual students said they'd had similar experiences.

The data come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which the San Francisco Unified School District administers every two years. It asks students how many times in the past year someone they were dating had forced them to do sexual things such as kissing or intercourse.

Debbie Mesloh, president of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, who's on the Family Violence Council, said in a news release, "As widespread cases of sexual assault and harassment continue to make headlines, it is disturbing to learn that our lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are almost three times more likely to experience sexual dating violence."

According to the council's report, LGB students who were dating also experienced physical dating violence more often, with 12 percent of them reporting that they'd experienced it, compared to 6 percent for heterosexual students.

(The report said that data for transgender students wasn't included because of low sample size.)

According to Kevin Gogin, the school district's director of safety and wellness in its Student, Family, and Community Support Department, data for 2017 are similar to what's in the Family Violence Council's report.

Erik Martinez, a program manager with the school district's LGBTQ Support Services office, said in an interview, "We acknowledge that our LGBTQ students need specific and deeper support around issues" that come up for them.

Gay-straight alliances are common in San Francisco's schools, and Martinez, who identifies as queer and Latinx, said the district has created confidential support groups for LGBTQ students that are housed in its wellness centers. The aim is to offer a more confidential setting than what students have had so that they can get more social and emotional support.

Topics include coming out and healthy relationships, and staff members co-facilitate the groups along with people from community-based organizations like Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center.


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