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Stop the Violence

Know Your Rights: AB537 Protects
LGBQT Youth from Discrimination
Author: Cynthia Pérez

Have you ever walked around your school wondering if 
you will get thrashed because somebody may think you 
are queer or because you actually are queer? These 
feelings are more common than you may think. According 
to the California Safe Schools Coalition, 53% of 
students said their schools were not safe for “guys 
who aren’t as masculine as other guys,” and 34% of 
students said their schools were not safe for “girls 
who aren’t as feminine as other girls.”
Well, just to let you all know, there is a law that 
protects you from harassment and prevents you from 
harassing others. AB537 is an addition to the 
California Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, 
that changed California Education Code by adding 
actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender 
identity to the existing policy. This means if you are 
queer, or perceived to be queer, this law protects you 
from harassment at all California public schools no 
matter who you are (this includes students, and 
staff). This law also gives Gay Straight Alliances, or 
GSAs, and other Lesbian/Gay/Bi-
sexual/Transgender/Questioning (LGBTQ) related student 
clubs state protection.
Sharon Papo, the coordinator for Strange, a youth-run 
program of Youth Services that supports LGBTQ youth 
and issues said, “This is a law that lets students who 
are being bullies or homophobic know that there are 
laws against this.” According to Bart M. of Counseling 
Today, teenagers who identify as LGBTQ hear anti-gay 
slurs such as “homo,” “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 
times a day. Many teens do not feel safe to “come out 
of the closet” for fear of hearing so much trash talk 
about being LGBTQ. 
Raul Hernandez Jr., a teen presenter at the Alphabet 
Soup Conference who is gay said, “There was a lot of 
bad talk about [queers] and in high school your rep is 
everything, and I was afraid that it would happen to 
me if I came out. Everybody just let those words go…
nobody, even teachers didn’t do anything about it.” 
This is not surprising since only 40% of California 
students said they sometimes or often hear teachers or 
staff putting a stop to the negative comments that are 
based on gender presentation. 
“I started cutting because I didn’t feel like I was 
really safe,” said Hernandez. “Later I found out that 
there were many people who were like me and cut like 
me. This shows a lot about how a person feels at their 
If you do not feel safe in your school you can file a 
complaint with your school. Hernandez took action and 
was the first to file a complaint about the verbal 
“This year we have done something about it, and now 
the people who will go to school after me will not 
have to go through it,” Hernandez said.  
If you need to file a complaint, your student handbook 
or an administrator should be able to give you an 
outline of the process. You should document all the 
crucial details like who, what, where, when and the 
names of witnesses. You should keep a copy of the 
reports and make sure that the complaints are 
received. (FYI: If you get a few of your friends to 
report this then your case will get more attention 
from your administrators). Then report back on it. If 
you are still being harassed you should let your 
principle know that what they did is not working and 
that something stronger will be required. If the 
school doesn’t do anything about it then you should 
call the district superintendent’s office and submit a 
written complaint to the designated complaint officer. 
They will have 60 days to conduct an investigation and 
make a decision. If you are not satisfied with the 
decision your district made, you will have to decide 
whether or not you want to appeal. You can appeal by 
sending the appropriate information to the California 
Department of Education and they will give your school 
district a certain amount of time to solve the 
For more details go to or These websites can help you with 
any questions about AB537. Also, if you feel like you 
are in any physical danger contact the police 
immediately! You need to make sure you feel safe in 
your school at all times. 	
Mireya Gomez-Contreras, a program coordinator for the 
YWCA in Watsonville, thinks the law will protect 
LGBTQ’s. “Without this law a lot of people could get 
away with harassment,” she said. “I hope that the non-
queer community can learn about AB537. This prevents 
harassment because it shows a consequence, but I also 
hope to see some preventative work done around the 
Gomez works directly with Latina lesbians as the 
coordinator for LyLyA, Latinas y Lesbianas y Aliadas, 
which is a support group for Spanish speaking and 
bilingual women who identify as lesbian, bisexual or 
ally. There are a few organizations locally that are 
working towards the awareness of AB537 and LGBTQ 
issues. Some of these organizations include the Gay-
Straight Alliances, or GSA’s, STRANGE and LyLyA. All 
of these programs are now educating their communities 
through workshops on LGBTQ issues and other related