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SLO tackles gender and safety issues 

Two bills spark comments from locals in light of Gay Pride Week

While RuPaul presides over a drag show for San Luis Obispo’s Gay Pride Week, Sacramento legislators are battling over two divisive gender-based education bills.
 

click to enlarge SPEAKING OUT :  Transsexual Lorelei Monet, coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Central Coast Center, became a woman three years ago after years of uncertainty and loneliness. Monet said that local gay, lesbian, and transsexual kids face harassment in schools—though not as bad as they would face in other, more-rigid communities. - PHOTO BY KAREN VELIE
  • PHOTO BY KAREN VELIE
  • SPEAKING OUT : Transsexual Lorelei Monet, coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Central Coast Center, became a woman three years ago after years of uncertainty and loneliness. Monet said that local gay, lesbian, and transsexual kids face harassment in schools—though not as bad as they would face in other, more-rigid communities.
# The bills creating the controversy—AB 606, which made it through the Senate Education Committee with a vote of 8-2 on June 21 and is now awaiting a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and AB 1437, which made it through the Senate Education Committee and is currently awaiting a vote from the state assembly—were penned to help protect children from sexual-orientation-based harassment and violence, and to prohibit class- and school-sponsored activities from “reflecting adversely� on bisexuality, transsexuality, or homosexuality.
 
“Treating someone differently because they are perceived as different is just wrong,� said Lorelei Monet, coordinator for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance for the Central Coast Center. “These are the kind of laws required to ensure fair treatment.�
 
Some conservative organizations, however, see the bills in a different light. The Campaign for Children and Families is asking Californians to read between the lines, warning that the bills will “force public schools to promote transsexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality to school children.�
 
Meanwhile, incidents of gender-based harassment and bullying are pervasive in California schools, where, in one year, more than seven percent of students statewide reported gender-based harassment, according to a 2004 study by the California Department of Education. That adds up to the persecution of more than 200,000 middle- and high-school students.
 
Prompted by an incident in 2004, in which an Orange County school district refused to change a longstanding policy that mandated the unequal treatment of a transgender teen, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, penned AB 606 with a goal of ensuring a safe environment for all students. AB 606 allows the state superintendent to withhold funding from schools that allow “school sanctioned� discrimination based on gender.
 
“This is the first time in history the Democrats have pushed a bill that threatens to arbitrarily yank school funding,� Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, said while testifying against the bill. “AB 606 alters educational materials through the back door. It is even worse than the other sexual indoctrination bill the governor said he’ll veto.�
  
On May 24, Gov. Arnold Schwarzetnegger’s office announced plans to veto SB 1437, which would add lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to existing state curriculum anti-bias laws.
  
In the meantime, here in SLO, students and administrators are working together to safeguard all students. In May, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays gave a presentation, titled “Safe Schools for All,� and discussed issues of safety and the gay climate at local schools.
 
 â€œThe children here do have problems—though certainly not as drastic as in more rigid communities,â€? the Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Monet said. “Still, other kids shun them and make jokes. A local 12-year-old—a she a year ago—told her parents she was a boy. With parental support, he changed his name and his school. Even though his family is very supportive, he has had difficulties.â€?
  
In an effort to quell such difficulties—and other potential discrimination—San Luis Coastal School District administrators decided to promote safety through study sessions that focus on diversity and discrimination.
  
“I don’t think there is anyone that wants children to be harassed, and it’s hard to find a reason to oppose the steps to keep them safe,� said San Luis Coastal School District Superintendent Ed Valentine, voicing his support for AB 606. “People are concerned the premise of the topic translates into feeling that a moral position is being taken on the issue of sexual orientation. I look at it as valuing the needs of students to feel safe.� ∆

Karen Velie is a staff writer at New Times. Send comments or ideas to kvelie@newtimesslo.com.

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