In my new book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, I document the rampant homophobic teasing that permeates high school students’ daily lives. California is one of the few states to take a proactive legislative approach to this problem. The legislature passed the groundbreaking Assembly Bill 537, The California School Safety and Violence Prevention Act, in 2000. This bill prohibits discrimination in schools based on perceived or actual sexual or gender identities.
At the school I studied, “River” High, students invoked this law several times in order to defend themselves. I watched as the president of the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance encouraged a club member to lodge a complaint with the school administration about the homophobic taunting directed at him, using AB 537 for protection. Other students used the law to challenge River High’s policy that girls wear lavender graduation robes and boys wear black. One brave student even requested that the school provide transgender-safe restrooms by citing this bill.
Sadly, despite the protections of AB 537, one of my respondents, Ricky, dropped out of River High. He did so due in large part due to the homophobic teasing he suffered there, in spite of his repeated entreaties to the administration to protect him. Once these laws are passed, teachers and administrators need to be trained to enforce them.
The California legislature is not alone in having passed such a law. The District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey have all enacted laws that prohibit harassment and/or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in school. Several other states â€“ Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin â€“ have passed laws that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation in school, but fail to protected alternative gender expressions. These laws need to include gender expression, as alternative gender practices trigger much of the homophobic or sexually based teasing in adolescence. As of the writing of my book, 20 states had no provisions protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or other non-normatively gendered students.
Guest blogger C.J. Pascoe is a sociologist at the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California Berkeley. Her book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School was recently published by the University of California Press. She is currently investigating youth cybercultures with the Digital Youth Project.