06/02/2011, By Melanie Nathan,
Sacramento – Yesterday, the California State Assembly passed the Equality and Equal Access in Higher Education bill (AB 620) in a 51-24 vote. Introduced by Assemblymember Marty Block (D-San Diego) and sponsored by Equality California, the bill would help reduce bullying and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and staff at public colleges and universities throughout California. The legislation would require public colleges and universities to include a policy on harassment and intimidation as part of its student code of conduct and require implementation of a number of the 2009 California Postsecondary Education Commission recommendations, including requiring that there be staff designated to address the unique needs of LGBT students, staff, and faculty.
“All students deserve a safe, welcoming learning environment regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Jim Carroll, Interim Executive Director for Equality California. “By passing this critical piece of legislation, our state will ensure that LGBT students have access to adequate resources needed to protect themselves against bullying and that public colleges and universities have the tools they need to create a safe campus for all students.”
The bill also codifies in state law the practice, already put into place by many universities, of collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity in the same manner as gender, race, ethnicity and disability, on voluntary demographics sections of university forms. Additionally, the bill updates the state’s higher education code to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as classes protected against discrimination in portions of the code where this is not currently specified.
“I am proud to see the Assembly approve AB 620 because it will help address the bullying and discrimination on our college campuses. Harassment of someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is wholly unacceptable, and we should be working to implement changes to ensure all campuses are safer and accepting places to study and thrive,” said Assemblymember Block. “This bill will help build a better standard of services, outreach, policies and awareness at all higher education campuses to create a more positive campus climate for LGBT students.”
A 2008 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) found that LGBT students face many challenges that require additional campus services and resources for them to be successful in college. The survey found that, compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBT students face higher rates of mental health problems, sexual health risks, substance abuse, and family issues leading to negative health outcomes. Data collected also revealed that 33% of LGBT students report having serious depression concerns — 50% higher than heterosexual students. In addition, 93% of heterosexual students said they feel “respected on campus,” compared to only 73% of LGBT students.
AB 620 would also encourage college campuses to identify a point-person for addressing the needs of LGBT faculty, students and staff on campus and to add the individual to their respective personnel portfolios in student affairs.
To learn more about Equality California-sponsored legislation, please visit: http://www.eqca.org/legislation
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Equality California has passed more than 70 pieces of legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment. http://www.eqca.org