August 11, 2022 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

California’s Education Accountability Policy Lacks LGBT Awareness

What spurred SB 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”: On March 31, 1994, 16-year-old poet Aaron Bacon suddenly died of natural causes during a North Star Expedition wilderness trek in southern Utah. He had been sent to the camp for “troubled teens” by his parents who found him unruly and feared his angry rebellion while on alcohol and drugs. An autopsy later showed Aaron had a perforated ulcer in his large intestine and “the contents of his digestive system had leaked through the hole into the abdominal cavity, causing severe damage and acute peritonitis,” according to an investigative report by the Los Angeles Times. But when he complained of pain along the walk, Aaron was called a “shameless fake,” with one counselor claiming that the weight drop for the 5 foot, 11 ½ inch tall teen from 131 pounds to 108 pounds was a con job. The day he died, Aaron (pictured), who was starving, freezing, dehydrated, and uncontrollably soiling himself, told his 20 year old counselor, a former drifter, “I don’t want to die, sir.”
What spurred SB 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”: On March 31, 1994, 16-year-old poet Aaron Bacon suddenly died of natural causes during a North Star Expedition wilderness trek in southern Utah. He had been sent to the camp for “troubled teens” by his parents who found him unruly and feared his angry rebellion while on alcohol and drugs. An autopsy later showed Aaron had a perforated ulcer in his large intestine and “the contents of his digestive system had leaked through the hole into the abdominal cavity, causing severe damage and acute peritonitis,” according to an investigative report by the Los Angeles Times. But when he complained of pain along the walk, Aaron was called a “shameless fake,” with one counselor claiming that the weight drop for the 5 foot, 11 ½ inch tall teen from 131 pounds to 108 pounds was a con job. The day he died, Aaron (pictured), who was starving, freezing, dehydrated, and uncontrollably soiling himself, told his 20 year old counselor, a former drifter, “I don’t want to die, sir.”

BY KAREN OCAMB  |   LGBT education and legislative activists have been trying to get the attention of California’s education administrators since science teacher Dr. Virginia Uribe created a school dropout prevention program for LGBT students at Fairfax High School in 1984. This year, 32 years later, three LGBT youth-related bills passed the Legislature and are now sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting his signature: one would regulate the abusive but lucrative “troubled teen” industry; another would require private religious colleges that take tax dollars to publicly state that they discriminate against LGBT students and employees for religious reasons; and the third would require the Department of Education to create and provide a model comprehensive suicide prevention plan to be adopted by local school districts.

These three bills were created because of a need and specific situations brought to the attention of their authors: SB 524—the “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”—was brought to Sen. Ricardo Lara by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA); Lara also authored SB 1146—“Uncovering Discrimination in Higher Education”—sponsored by Equality California after complaints from LGBT students; and AB 2246—“Suicide Prevention Policies in Schools”—authored by former Long Beach teacher Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell with Equality California and The Trevor Project after new studies show that LGBT suicide rates continue to be high.

No one knows whether Brown will sign or veto the bills. But the real question is why—after three decades of fighting for compassion and equal treatment in the state’s school system—must these conditions still need a remedy? In 1984, openly lesbian Dr. Uribe worked with then-closeted Jackie Goldberg, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District, to fight rabidly anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition head Rev. Lou Sheldon to make sex education and condoms available in the schools during the AIDS crisis. In the early 1990s, out Sheila Kuehl brought the issue of discrimination and bullying against LGBT youth to the Assembly floor with her “Dignity For All Students” bill. Later, out Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s “School Success and Opportunity Act” ensured that transgender students have access to all school programs and facilities—a law that sent the religious right screaming about the scary “bathroom bill.”

But none of those three decades of laws and attempts to instill LGBT cultural competency in America’s most progressive state seem to have penetrated the thick bureaucratic thinking of the California State Board of Education, which is meeting Thursday to “adopt key elements of a new and distinct school accountability system,” according to education watchdog EdSource.

“The new system shifts from a one-dimensional school rating under the API and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, based on test scores, toward a broader picture of what constitutes a quality education. It combines measures of underlying conditions, such as teacher qualifications and student suspension rates, and academic outcomes, including gauges of college and career readiness and standardized test scores,” reports EdSource.

Including the issue of student suspension indicates at least some cultural competency. A federal report last year showed that African American students are four times more likely than whites to be arrested in or suspended or expelled from school, mostly in the South. However, the rates in California for students being suspended for “willful defiance” apparently declined for three years, according to a 2015 report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

“Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a nonprofit policy group, said blacks are more likely to be suspended or expelled in situations where teachers or school leaders have discretion in determining how to respond to behavior, such as when a student is deemed disrespectful or defiant or violates a dress code,” the New York Times reported.

African American parents have long decried the “school-to-prison pipeline” for unfair school suspensions that can start as early as preschool.

But LGBT youth of all races and ethnicities are subject to acting out and suffering the consequences of “willful defiance.” And for LGBT youth who are unruly and perhaps non-gender conforming, the penalties can far exceed the “crime”—they can be sent to a rehabilitation facility where they may be forced to endure starvation, physical, mental and emotional abuse and maybe even lose their lives.  (See my investigative report here)

“We’re so close to finally regulating an industry rife with institutions that masquerade as residential schools, camps, and wilderness programs to help troubled youth, but frequently abuse and even kill the kids they claim to ‘treat,’” said the Center’s Director of Policy & Community Building Dave Garcia after SB 524 passed. “For all youth, and particularly for the well-being of LGBT youth whose parents are frequently conned into sending their kids to these programs simply because they’re LGBT, we implore Governor Brown to quickly sign the Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act.”

The Center urges everyone to sign a petition to Gov. Brown urging him to sign the “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act”- click here.

But the EdSource report on Thursday’s California State Board of Education meeting —ironically during Suicide Prevention Week—makes no mention of the need to consider or develop protocols for compassionate treatment for troubled LGBT youth in schools. Nor is there mention of the need to adopt more comprehensive suicide prevention policies, despite the CDC noting last month that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among all young people aged 10-24; specifically, “more than 40 percent of LGB students have seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent reported having attempted suicide during the past 12 months.” Suicide consideration and attempts are even greater among transgender youth. 

“As educators, our most important duty is the protection of the children in our care,” says Tom Torlakson, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, at the top of the Department of Education’s webpage on Child Abuse Prevention—a webpage that provides an online “Educators Training Module” explaining the legal responsibilities of mandated reporting and suggests behavioral red flags such as anxiety, depression, self-mutilation, and “suicidal gestures/attempts.”

Torlakson and the California State Board of Education seem unaware of this unfilled need http://www.eqca.org/ocamb-16/—and the fact that a model policy (called for by AB 2246) already exists, created by experts The Trevor Project, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists. The 16-page “Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention: Model Language, Commentary, and Resources,” describes risk factors, protective factors, prevention, best practices, referrals and more.

And then there’s the Education Department and the School Board’s turning a blind eye towards the plight of students or employees who come out while at a religious school they did not realize would discriminate against them for who they are. Lara’s bill—vociferously opposed by longtime anti-LGBT religious activists—calls for simple transparency. “With SB1146, we shed light on the appalling discriminatory practices LGBT students face at private religious universities in California,” Lara said in an email. “No university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds. That’s why I will update my bill to ensure that Title 9 universities disclose their exempt status publicly and require that universities notify the California Student Aid Commission if a student has been expelled due to their moral conduct clauses. As a gay Catholic man, nobody can dictate how I worship or practice my religion. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”

But none of these issues appear to be on the agenda forThursday’s meeting of the California State Board of Education, which is meeting to revise their accountability process. After three decades of trying to achieve equal and compassionate treatment from those responsible for forming and enforcing fair school policy, when will state officials go beyond nice-sounding rhetoric and actually be accountable to LGBT students and employees? 

Related Posts

Pride Picnic: Another Staple Pride Event Enters Second Year

August 4, 2022

August 4, 2022

Over 900 guests gather at Hollywood Forever’s Fairbanks Lawn for the LGBT Center’s second annual Pride Picnic By Susan Payne...

Monkeypox Cases Triple in California as Officials Stress It’s Not a Gay Disease

August 4, 2022

August 4, 2022

LA County to host vaccine pop up in WeHo  By Susan Payne Monkeypox cases in California have tripled since the...

Broadway Corridor to Become Long Beach LGBTQ+ Cultural District

August 4, 2022

August 4, 2022

Long Beach City Council approves motion in June By Susan Payne  The parts of the Broadway Corridor in Long Beach...

Liquor License Records Show New West Hollywood Gay Bar Close to Opening

August 4, 2022

August 4, 2022

Dolly Shine coming to former Gym Sportsbar space  By Susan Payne  A new West Hollywood gay bar under the name...

Coming Soon: Third Annual Century City ‘Rock & Roll Casino Night’

August 4, 2022

August 4, 2022

Proceeds from the August 25 event support Chamber programs and services for the business community  By Susan Payne  The Century...

RAND Study Highlights Flaws in New Mental Health Distress Hotline 988

July 29, 2022

July 29, 2022

Study found that out of a pool of 180 officials surveyed, only around 16 percent of survey respondents reported that...

The Center’s Senior Prom Draws Joy, Togetherness on the Dance Floor

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022

After a three-year pandemic hiatus, The LGBT Center’s Senior Prom returned with a much-needed togetherness on the evening of June...

Man Charged With “Hate-Motivated” Sylmar Murder

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022

By Susan Payne Officials announced last week that a man in connection with the “hate-motivated” killing of a Sylmar homeless...

GOP Congressman With Anti-Gay Past Seeks Reelection Against Gay Rival in Palm Springs

July 28, 2022

July 28, 2022

By Susan Payne A congressman with an anti-LGBTQ political past is trying something different this year as he attempts reelection...

California Ends Loitering for Prostitution Ban With Safer Streets for All Act

July 15, 2022

July 15, 2022

Earlier this month Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 357, the Safer Streets for All...

Compton Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges for Targeting and Robbing Gay Men He Met on Grindr

July 15, 2022

July 15, 2022

A Compton man pleaded guilty this week to federal criminal charges for targeting and robbing Los Angeles-area gay men he...

The World’s First LGBTQ+ Mariachi Band Performs During Long Beach Pride Weekend at Hotel Maya

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

Following the 39th Annual Long Beach Pride Parade on Sunday, July 10, Hotel Maya will present “Mariachi Arcoiris de Los...

LA Rams Back Varsity Gay League Venture to Start Flag Football League

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

League is open to everyone regardless of sexuality, gender or skill level.  By Susan Payne The Varsity Gay League is...

Prom Made Safe: Santa Monica High School Hosts Queer Dance

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

By Susan Payne Beyond the suits, dresses, jackets, dancing and crown royalty was a prom made safe by Santa Monica...