Zbur pens LGBTQ teacher training bill

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 14, 2022
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Newly sworn in California Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur. Photo: Courtesy Rick Chavez Zbur
Newly sworn in California Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur. Photo: Courtesy Rick Chavez Zbur

Newly sworn-in gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood) is making LGBTQ school issues a priority during his freshman year in the California Legislature. It was a top concern of his when he led the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California.

Now representing Assembly District 51 in the Los Angeles area, Zbur introduced this month his Assembly Bill 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. One of two bills he made a point of filing after taking his oath of office December 5, AB 5 mandates that teachers and credentialed staff at the state's public schools take an online LGBTQ cultural competency training course.

"I wanted to sort of signal some of my priorities as a new member of the Assembly," said Zbur, whose other bill, AB 3, focuses on offshore wind energy. "One is to obviously continue expanding the civil rights of the LGBTQ community and all vulnerable communities."

While executive director of EQCA, Zbur worked on passing legislation to create training sessions for educators in the state on how to support LGBTQ students in grades seven through 12 and address issues they face in school like bullying and harassment. Former governor Jerry Brown had vetoed such a bill due to its cost in 2018.

A year later Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law reintroduced legislation — AB 493 — instructing the California Department of Education to create the training program without any funding, though, to pay for it. In his 2021 budget proposal Newsom included the $3 million needed to build out the online course.

But there remains no mandate for school staff to take the training. Thus, Zbur is pushing his AB 5 to ensure the previous bill "is not sitting on the shelf," he explained in a phone interview this week with the Bay Area Reporter.

"We want to make sure every school teacher, even those at school districts not LGBTQ supportive, have the benefit of this training," said Zbur, who is co-parent of a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old twins, who attend public schools. "The cost should be minimal because the program already is being developed and paid for under the prior budget allocation. It is just the administrative cost of implementing this program."

With the state education department expected to soon complete the training program, Zbur said his bill is needed to make sure that school administrators make use of it.

"It will basically mandate the training for all teachers and certificated staff in the state," he said. "Unless it is actually implemented and used, it won't have much impact."

LGBTQ students whose parents or families are not supportive of them due to their sexual orientation or gender identity often turn to their teachers or school guidance counselors for assistance and support, noted Zbur. Thus, it is imperative those school staff have the training they need in order to properly address the needs of their LGBTQ students, he added.

"We know schools are the most effective environment for addressing the needs of kids who are either arriving to school from a non-supportive home environment or targets of bullying in schools," said Zbur.

While at EQCA Zbur helped launch a report aimed at surveying how California's K-12 public school districts are addressing the needs of their LGBTQ students. Yet a majority of the 343 unified school districts didn't bother to fill out the inaugural survey in 2019, and even fewer did so this year, as the B.A.R.'s online Political Notes column reported in October.

Asked about authoring a bill to require school administrators fill out the survey the next time EQCA sends it out, expected to be in late 2023, Zbur told the B.A.R. he had yet to think about mandatory LGBTQ data collection for the state's schools but planned to do so during his time in Sacramento.

"I think, as you know, data collection is another priority for the LGBTQ community," said Zbur. "Gathering data on LGBTQ students and all of that is a priority, I know, not only I but other members of the LGBTQ caucus share."

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