Advocating for LGBTQ Youth

photo(31)By Joey Hernandez

Over the years, the north steps of the State Capitol have seen some fierce advocacy by queer youth from across the state of California. The ACLU of California is keeping that legacy alive in the 2013 legislative cycle. GSA Advocacy & Youth Leadership Academy (GAYLA) is a three-day intensive training in the legislative process and advocacy that brings the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) students to the forefront of the discussion. Today, it culminates with Queer Youth Advocacy Day, a day where youth speak their minds and voice their concerns directly to their representatives.

The ACLU of California regularly co-sponsors and plays an integral role in this event because we believe it is crucial that youth exercise their freedom of speech and right to petition the government to call attention to issues that affect their every-day lives. Youth speaking out and using their freedom of expression is critical not only for the LGBTQ rights movement but for all civil rights movements. Youth are not just the future leaders of civil rights movements; they are the movers and shakers of today.

LGBTQ youth face many serious civil rights violations every day at school, including bullying, harassment, discrimination, censorship, and disproportionate punishment. At Queer Youth Advocacy Day, queer youth climb the steps of the state capitol to say, “We won’t stand for it anymore.”

Today, these budding activists joined together to fight on two issues: equal access to all school programs and disproportionate and unfair discipline. The youth lobbied for two important bills that would create a welcoming and affirming school environment for all students:

  • The School Success & Opportunity Act (AB 1266) makes clear that California schools must respect a transgender student’s identity and give transgender students a fair chance to fully participate in all school activities, programs, and facilities. Every student should have a fair chance to meaningfully participate and succeed in school but in many cases, transgender students are currently prevented from participating, as themselves, in activities, including classes required for graduation.
  • Disruption and Defiance: Reducing Grounds for Harsh Discipline (AB 420) will limit the use of “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend or expel students. Currently, about 40% of suspensions involve “willful defiance,” a vague, subjective category that’s been used to punish everything from a gender nonconforming  student breaking the dress code to a lesbian student holding her girlfriend’s hand. Suspension takes students away from valuable learning time, making it more difficult for them to succeed in class and stay in school.

These bills must be a priority for California representatives. The queer youth participating this year are eager to share their stories to help legislators understand the bills’ importance. This year’s Queer Youth Advocacy Day will be another reminder that the LGBTQ young people in California are a force to be reckoned with.

Joey Hernandez is the LGBTQ Student Rights Advocate with the ACLU of Southern California.