EQCA, GSA Applaud Failure of Far-Right Signature Drive to Overturn Vital Protections for School Children
(Sacramento, California, January 11, 2008) — Equality California, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and the Transgender Law Center are pleased at the failure of a signature drive by a coalition of extreme right-wing groups to overturn civil rights protections for California students.
The new law, which went into effect on January 1st, reinforces existing prohibitions of discrimination in publicly funded schools and activities, including discrimination based on religion, race, disability, gender and sexual orientation. Opponents of SB 777 announced Thursday that they had gathered only 350,000 of the more than 433,000 signatures necessary to qualify a referendum on the June 2008 ballot. Today, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown filed a motion to dismiss a related lawsuit attempting to invalidate the statutes.
EQCA and the GSA Network last month filed a motion to intervene in federal district court in San Diego to defend the California statutes that prohibit discrimination and harassment in publicly funded schools, including the newly enacted Student Civil Rights Act (SB 777). EQCA was the official sponsor of SB 777, and both organizations actively supported the law. The two organizations are represented by NCLR, Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP and the Law Office of David C. Codell.
"Opponents of SB 777 have been spreading misinformation and outright lies for months, and whether they actually collected 350,000 signatures, we will never know," said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors. "What is clear is that they failed. Despite their vicious attack, Californians stood with us and said 'no' to turning back the clock on civil rights and protecting all youth from discrimination in our schools."
The Student Civil Rights Act, authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, reinforces existing California laws that prohibit discrimination in publicly funded schools and activities, including discrimination based on religion, race, disability, gender and sexual orientation. California law has prohibited discrimination in public education on these bases, including sexual orientation and gender — for years. SB 777 did not change the categories of discrimination prohibited by law, but merely updated the Education Code to clearly reflect current law so school administrators and teachers know their responsibilities to protect students without having to cross-reference other sections of state law.
"We're glad that Californians saw through the fear-based tactics behind this failed referendum attempt, signaling instead that they share our vision of schools where every student deserves a safe place to learn,"
said Carolyn Laub, executive director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
According to the 2001 California Healthy Kids Survey, nearly 30 percent of California youth in grades seven to 11 report experiencing harassment or bullying based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
"With a third of California's students facing harassment or even violence, it's offensive that our opponents are wasting taxpayer dollars making an issue out of this," said Brian Chase, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. "This law protects all kids, and this attempt to strip away badly-needed protections is hateful and mean-spirited."
"The opponents of SB 777 failed to gather enough signatures because the vast majority of Californians strongly support safety and equality," said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. " SB 777 is a common sense measure to combat bullying and harassment in public schools, and I am confident that any future efforts to attack SB 777 will fall equally flat."
"The people of California support the civil rights of our students, plain and simple," said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. "The failure of opponents of SB 777 to obtain enough signatures for a referendum comes as no surprise. Californians recognized this as an extremist effort to open our classrooms to discrimination and harassment. It is heartwarming to know that California students live in a state where people respect their civil rights."
California's Legislature passed SB 777 in September and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law on October 12, 2007.
The lawsuit challenging SB 777 was filed by lawyers for Advocates for Faith and Freedom and the Alliance Defense Fund in federal district court in San Diego in November.
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. www.lambdalegal.org
Equality California is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. www.eqca.org
GSA Network is a nonprofit organization, governed by youth and adults, that empowers youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools through Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. There are currently more than 650 GSA clubs in California schools, including more than 45% of the public high schools. www.gsanetwork.org
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.nclrights.org
The Transgender Law Center is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender communities through direct legal services, education, community organizing, and policy and media advocacy. www.transgenderlawcenter.org
Contact: Jason Howe: 213.382.7600, ext. 247; Email: [email protected]