More Stories

Youth Life!





Palabras que duelen
Words that Hurt….
Author: Vanessa Soma





“Faggot.” “Dyke.” Kids hear these derogatory, 
discriminatory remarks every day. Even phrases 
like “that’s so gay,” innocent as it may sound, harms 
by association. After all, “gay” is no longer 
synonymous with “happy,” and “that’s so gay” is hardly 
a compliment. In this context, it means someone or 
something is laughable and unlovable because it is 
associated with homosexuality. Consider the messages 
such remarks send: being or “acting” homosexual is 
wrong and disgusting. 

These comments aren’t exclusive to gays. According to 
a recent Preventing School Harassment Survey, almost 
30 percent of students —lesbian, gay, bisexual, 
transgendered (LGBT), and straight -- have been 
harassed for behaving contrary to traditional gender 
roles. Peer acceptance is vital to teens. Imagine the 
effects these careless, often unintentionally cruel, 
remarks have on their feelings of self-worth.

Harassment is dangerous
Harassment makes many students feel unsafe in their 
schools. These snide comments or derogatory remarks 
lock students into conventional gender or sexual 
identities by mocking any other expressions of gender 
or sexuality. 

According to the 2003 National School Climate Survey 
and the 2004 Safe Place to Learn Report, students who 
endure this hostility tend to receive lower grades, 
skip school because they feel unsafe, resort to 
negative behaviors such as drugs or alcohol, or even 
bring weapons to school in self-defense. In my 
opinion, these statistics are startling, mostly 
because they reflect not merely numbers, but our 
quality of life. 

The Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act
There is a law that exists to protect students from 
such harassment. Passed in 2000, Assembly Bill 537, 
also known as the Student Safety and Violence 
Prevention Act, adds actual or perceived sexual 
orientation, sex, gender identity, and gender 
expression to the existing nondiscrimination policy of 
California. It is now illegal to “willfully injure, 
intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any 
other person, by force or threat of force, in the free 
exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege 
secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of 
this state or [nation] because of the other person’s 
race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, 
disability, gender, or sexual orientation, or because 
he or she perceives that the other person has one or 
more of those characteristics.” 

It is essential for young people to understand that 
they have the right to pursue happiness -- whether 
that includes expressing their gender in a 
nontraditional way or falling in love with someone of 
the same sex -- without fear of harassment. The law 
also protects those who are neither LGBT nor gender 
non-conformists but who are perceived as such by their 
peers. 

Even with the law in place, the enforcement of the 
Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act is left to 
a complaints process, social activism and advocacy 
groups, and to the general public. 

Santa Cruz City School District and the Pajaro Valley 
Unified School District have a plan to enforce the 
California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act. 
Both districts have individual, school-based 
committees that regularly meet to discuss advocacy and 
enforcement of the law. Such advocacy involves sending 
their staff to diversity trainings that specifically 
address methods for intervening in situations that 
create a hostile atmosphere at school, including the 
use of discriminatory language. These districts are 
also working to make LGBT resources available to their 
students. 

Community groups offer support
Community organizations help provide the community 
support necessary for school districts’ enforcement of 
the law. Nonprofits, social advocacy, and activism 
groups such as the Santa Cruz County Task Force for 
Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth, 
a program of the Diversity Center; Triangle Speakers; 
Parents and Friends of Lesbians, Gays and Transgender 
persons GLBT Alliance; and the LGBT youth group 
STRANGE use community-wide education and activities to 
improve the lives of LGBT and gender non-conformist 
individuals. Currently these organizations are working 
on a “Back to School” campaign through their 
collaborative Safe Schools Project of Santa Cruz 
County. The Safe Schools Project of Santa Cruz County 
plans to work with city councils to pass resolutions 
in support of this law as well as develop a website 
listing all of the local schools’ complaint officers 
and resources. Additionally, the project will assess 
school districts’ adherence to the law and advocate 
for district-level support of it. 

Parents should never underestimate their importance in 
their children’s lives. As a role model, parents have 
the ability to express their intolerance of derogatory 
remarks and their support for their children, 
regardless of their gender and sexual identities. 
Young people all too often get caught up in the hype 
of popular culture and the acceptance of their peers, 
and it is invaluable that parents provide a context 
for these experiences. Such simple forms of acceptance 
as those described above can make a world of 
difference to children, whether or not they are 
harassed at school. 

As you go to school, consider the environment you are 
entering. Now picture how you wish it were. Some 
school districts and community organizations have 
worked hard to make these environments less 
threatening, but we can all help. Teens can tell their 
friends it is illegal and unacceptable to harass 
someone. They can call their school districts and ask 
what is being done to support the enforcement of the 
California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act. 
Teens can seek community resources for themselves or 
their friends. 

We still live in a world where we hear “dyke” 
and “that’s so gay” on a daily basis, but together, we 
can do something about it.

How to file a complaint:
If a student feels unsafe at school due to slurs and 
harassment, students, parents & community members can 
file a complaint at their school. The Gay-Straight 
Alliance Network, a youth-led statewide organization 
based in San Francisco, offers a step-by-step process 
on how to file a complaint. 

Info: www.gsanetwork.org/ab537file/ or 
(415) 552-4229.