State assembly bill aims to improve college climate for LGBT students

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A California State Assembly bill aiming to improve the college campus climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students was passed by a state committee March 30, but some higher education officials are questioning how effective the bill would be.

Assembly Bill 620 - authored by state Assemblymember Marty Block, D-San Diego - would require the California State University campuses and community colleges, and request the UC, to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression within campus anti-discrimination policies and to provide access to student services for the LGBT community through awareness training of current campus staff and faculty.

The bill was passed in the State Assembly Committee on Higher Education in a 6-2 vote and will now go before the Assembly Committee on Appropriations for consideration.

"This legislation would build on existing nondiscrimination laws affecting colleges and universities related to hate violence, to additionally include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression," said Mike Naple, spokesperson for Block.

Assemblymembers Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and Jeff Miller, R-Corona, voted against the bill. Donnelly and Miller could not be reached as of press time.

According to Matt Bunch, government affairs manager for Equality California - which works to achieve equality and legal protection for LGBT persons - the data supporting this bill came in a report released in June 2009 by the California Postsecondary Education Commission that called attention to the unique needs of LGBT students that are not being met by some schools.

"All schools should have a bare minimum standard for student support that is culturally competent to meet the unique needs of LGBT students," Bunch said.

But the CSU opposed the bill because reporting institutions and training mechanisms already exist on many campuses, according to Erik Fallis, CSU spokesperson. Fallis said the recent $500 million cut to the CSU has caused it to "prioritize what we do have left in revenue ... for the classroom" and the training and surveys required by the bill would be additional expenses.

The bill would require colleges to collect demographic data from LGBT campus communities and to submit that information to the California Postsecondary Education Commission in order to assess quality of life and make future recommendations to campuses, according to Naple. Currently, data relative to race, gender and ethnicity is collected in this manner - authorized by participants without the inclusion of individually identifying information, he added.

The UC has yet to take a position on the bill, as it is still in the process of reviewing and assessing the bill's implications, according to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez. However, in a March 22 letter to Block, the UC Student Association stated its support for the bill.

Christina Gonzales, associate dean of students at UC Berkeley, said collecting demographic information might be problematic, as it requires students to self-identify and disclose personal information.

"We have the gender resource center, and I think that for our campus ... that's definitely a place that already offers workshops and staff and faculty and different types of venues to have discussions and consult with them," Gonzales said.

She added that the bill may not have much of an impact on campus as compared to other college campuses because of the existing Gender Equity Resource Center at UC Berkeley.

The California Communities United Institute - an equality advocacy group - supported the bill by encouraging its members to write to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

"There have been a horrendous number of suicides as a result of harassment of LGBTI (intersex) people in schools and universities," said Boyce Hinman, founder of the institute. "We hope that the various communities in the bill will be able to attend college in peace instead of having to fend off personal attacks."


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