Sebastian Williamson identifies as queer, or someone who does not have a preferred sexual orientation. The 19-year-old graphic design student is a part of the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
“I know a few students that would refer to me in female pronouns when they already were educated on my preferred pronouns,” Williamson said. “They just didn’t care to make me feel comfortable and kept at it as if it were a game.”
Although Williamson merely finds this kind of occurrences annoying more than offensive, the same cannot be said about many Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) students in California and the whole country.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), six in every 10 LGBTQ students in the country reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, while four in 10 felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
This should change if the state has its way. Along with the new year, California also welcomes a new state legislation targeted to help put an end to bullying and harassments due to gender expression and sexual orientation.
“We’ve really moved away just from recognizing we’re not a hetero-centric world to moving towards policies of equity,” LPC Academic Senate President Sarah Thompson said. “It’s not just individual recognition but treating sexual minorities as individuals with the same full rights as sexual majorities.”
The Equality and Equal Access in Higher Education Bill (Assembly Bill 620), which is tentatively expected to be implemented on Jan. 1, requires schools to identify a point-person who will be responsible for LGBTQ-related concerns on campus.
Although LPC is still in the process of selecting the person for this position, favorable effects can be expected from this step.
In “Gender Non-Conformity and School Safety: Documenting the Problem and Steps Schools Can Take,” a research conducted by The California Safe Schools Coalition, results showed that both LGBTQ male and female students who “know where to go to for information and support to gender identity and expression” felt safer in their schools.
The 2011 National School Climate Survey published by the GLSEN also showed positive results of community support and intervention in schools, concluding that “8 out of 10 LGBTQ students experience harassment” in the country, “but school-based resources and supports are making a difference.”
In addition to forming a good community support system, AB 620 also requires colleges and universities to strengthen legal support system in schools. Each school’s security department will have to start separately filing hate crimes reported that are of sexual orientation or gender expression discrimination in nature.
At LPC, the campus crime log dating back from 2009 to present reflects no record of hate crimes towards LGBTQ students or staff. Nonetheless, Thompson stresses the importance of this change.
“It is really important to identify and make separate criminal acts that are done not for personal reasons or personal gain, but are done because a person is a member of a group that that individual happens to despise. So this fight for equity requires that kind of consciousness,” Thompson said.
Another change that AB 620 will bring is the inclusion of extensive and expanded definitions of “gender” and “gender expression” to cover terms that were not covered by school documents and policies before.
“The spirit of the law is that to make sure that we are specific to the documents that we give to students about definitions of these terms,” Thompson said.
And this is, of course, to address unintentional discrimination and bullying happening in schools because of people’s lack of understanding of certain gender and gender expression terms.
“Having a society and students who are ignorant really does not help,” Williamson said.
“People have told me stories about being bullied mercilessly at school, being treated rudely or unfairly by strangers in public, and instances of the same nature,” Northwestern University senior student Camille Beredjick said.
The 21-year-old studying Journalism and Gender Studies is a nominee to receive a scholarship worth $10 thousand from CollegeScholarships.org for her single-handedly established blog GayWrites.org.
Beredjick began GayWrites.org in June 2010 in hopes of having a personal outlet for her interest in LGBTQ equality issues. Within two years, her blog evolved to be a news and resource pool, earning her a following of more than 40 thousand LGBTQ members and allies all over the world, many of which she says have reached out to her to share personal experiences of bullying.
“LGBTQ people sometimes don’t come into their identities until college, and that transition can be very difficult for anyone, gay or straight. Bullying and harassment are very real problems in every facet of life, especially in education, and college is no exception,” Beredjick said.
“College students should be able to learn in a safe environment,” Williamson added. ”And truthfully the only way to even get that started is by creating laws and rules that say we are all equal and (LGBTQ students) shouldn’t be made to feel less than anyone else — mentally or physically.”
However, many California students admit they are not fully confident the new mandate will solve bullying problems.
“The added protection of the law is indeed important, but just because a law is set into place doesn’t mean people are going to follow it,” 22-year-old Karishma Bendale said.
The fifth-year Nursing student from San Jose State University identifies herself as pansexual or someone who gets attracted to people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
Bendale, who has been a member of SJSU’s Queer and Asian Club for three years, actively advocates through reaching out and educating people about gender and gender expression.
“However, it is important to have these rules in a way that they help bring awareness to the issues of gender, gender expression and sexual orientation,” Bendale said.