Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in California since 1976, and in 2003, the state adopted protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Knowing their rights is the first step for LGBTQ individuals to ensure they receive equal treatment, and young people across the state are taking steps to defend their rights and be themselves. Harassment, physical threats, hate graffiti, or insults against LGBTQ students are not a joke and should be reported immediately to the principal, counselor, or other school official. The good news is that California has laws designed to help and protect LGBTQ youth.
For example, Rochelle Hamilton, a lesbian student from Vallejo, California, came to the ACLU for help after being repeatedly harassed by her high school staff. Rochelle fought for her rights and won. Today, at their school, all teachers and students attend anti-bullying training and the school district has issued clear guidelines on how LGBTQ students can report bullying to prevent it from happening again in the future. Schools have a legal obligation to have an anti-harassment policy which must be clearly posted at the school, as well as a clear process for filing complaints.
Schools are also responsible for preventing someone from retaliating against you for reporting them, and for keeping complaints strictly confidential. According to the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment, student expression is protected both on campus and outside the classroom, and the California Constitution has even stronger protections for freedom of expression.
Section 48907 of the California Education Code also safeguards your right to talk about LGBTQ issues and matters at school. In addition, under Section 48950, no public school, charter school, or private non-religious high school can discipline you for talking about being LGBTQ or for discussing LGBTQ issues. Of course, this doesn't mean you can say whatever you want at any time: your speech isn't protected if it interrupts class hours, if it's intended to encourage other students to break school rules, if it's obscene, or if it's something false about someone who could damage their reputation. Your school may also place some limits on where and when certain types of speech are allowed, but in general, if other students are allowed to speak at an event or in class at school, they should also be allowed to talk about LGBTQ issues. Your school is required to allow you to express your opinion including on LGBTQ issues on badges, buttons, armbands, bulletin boards, printed materials, petitions and school publications.
Nor can your school prevent you from doing a class project on an LGBTQ topic or book as long as it meets the requirements of the assignment. For example, officials in Ramona, California tried to stop Natalie Jones a sixth-grade student from giving a class report about Harvey Milk the first openly gay elected official in California. This violated federal and state protections for freedom of expression and with the help of the ACLU Natalie was allowed to give her presentation in class like all other students. Under the constitutions you have a protected right to privacy including the right to keep your sexual orientation gender identity or transgender status private (what the courts refer to as a “reasonable expectation of privacy”). In other words you have the right to control to what extent and to whom you disclose highly personal information about your sexual orientation or gender identity.
This means that even if you're “out of your mind” at school with respect to your sexual orientation or gender identity if you're not “out” with your parents at home and can reasonably expect them not to find out school staff can't tell your family that you're LGBTQ without your permission. Being open about your sexuality in school doesn't mean you automatically give up your right to privacy outside of school. Gay and Heterosexual Alliances (GSA) are student clubs that allow young people committed to equality to meet for activities and debate. GSAs are a great way to promote awareness about LGBTQ issues and your school's support for a GSA could help the school meet its obligation to protect students from harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Unfortunately sometimes schools want to treat GSAs differently than other clubs or they even try to stop students from starting one.
This is wrong and the law can help you. Under the federal Equal Access Act the First Amendment and Section 220 of the California Education Code if your public school allows other non-curricular clubs to meet it must also allow the GSA to meet and treat it like any other group of non-curricular students. Non-curricular clubs are groups that are not directly related to the classes taught at school. For example a math club is a curricular club but a snowboard club is not curricular. The GSA must have the same privileges and access to meeting facilities as other non-curricular clubs. Therefore if your school allows other clubs to meet in classrooms and place posters then you have to allow the GSA to meet in classrooms and also place posters.
If you have difficulty forming a GSA or believe that your GSA is being treated differently you should raise your concerns with school authorities and explain that the law requires that the GSA be treated the same as other non-curricular clubs. Students in Madera California negotiated with administrators who had been blocking the formation of a GSA club for more than two years they explained that the school's actions violated the law and the club was eventually allowed to develop. Student members of a GSA in Hesperia California defended themselves against school administrators who censored GSA advertisements and posters and did not allow them to screen films on LGBTQ topics. Creating a GSA is like founding any other club find out what your school's rules are and then follow them carefully. LGBTQ individuals living in Los Angeles County have many rights under state law which protect them from discrimination harassment censorship or retaliation when expressing their opinions or forming student clubs such as Gay... Alliances (GSA).
Knowing these rights is essential for young people across Los Angeles County so they can defend themselves against any form of discrimination or harassment they may face.