California budget includes $3 million to train teachers on LGBTQ issues

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, approved a final state budget on Monday that includes $3 million for LGBTQ cultural competency training for public school teachers.

That makes the state the first in the country to allocate funding in this specific way, according to Equality California, an LGBTQ advocacy group that has pushed for the training for years.

The funding will allow the California Department of Education to develop a curriculum aimed at helping teachers support LGBTQ students.

“There’s no doubt that our schools must be a safe, supportive and welcoming for all students,” Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement. “At a time when states across the country are attacking transgender kids, we are elated that California has taken this momentous step toward ensuring that public school teachers and staff have the tools and training they need to support LGBTQ+ students.” 

The funding is a win for advocates, who were disappointed after Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2018. At the time, Brown said he had already signed a law that would allow the Department of Education to use its existing resources for cultural competency training if the department determined that teachers needed it, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

The next year, in 2019, then-Assemblymember Todd Gloria, who now serves as mayor of San Diego, authored similar legislation, but the training mandate was stripped from the bill due to lack of funding, according to Equality California.

The forthcoming training will include topics such as school anti-bullying and harassment policies and complaint procedures; how to identify LGBTQ youth who are subjected to, or may be at risk of, bullying and lack of acceptance at home or in their communities; and how to find targeted support services for LGBTQ+ students, including counseling services, among other topics, according to Equality California.

Advocates say supportive teachers are important for LGBTQ students, who face unique barriers to a safe education, such as higher rates of harassment.

One national survey published in 2020 by GLSEN, a nonprofit group that advocates for LGBTQ students, found that 69 percent of LGBTQ students reported experiencing verbal harassment at school based on their sexual orientation, 57 percent based on their gender expression or outward appearance and 54 percent based on their gender identity.

About one-tenth of LGBTQ students reported they had been physically assaulted (punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) in the previous year based on their sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, according to the survey, and more than half (58 percent) reported they had been sexually harassed in the previous year.

A hostile school climate can affect students’ mental health and their success in school, the survey found. LGBTQ students who were victimized at school reported higher rates of depression, and, of those who indicated they were considering dropping out of school, 42 percent said it was related to the harassment they faced.

Just as negative experiences in school can affect LGBTQ students’ mental health, so can support from school staff. GLSEN’s report found students with many (11 or more) supportive staff members at their school felt safer, had better attendance and had higher GPAs than those with no or few (up to five) supportive staff members.

“When students see the presence of supportive educators, it can have a significant positive impact on their academic achievement, as well as on their psychological well-being and long-term educational aspirations,” Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, GLSEN’s interim executive director, told NBC News via email.

She said she’s glad to see California making a commitment to “strengthening the ranks of LGBTQ+ supportive teachers and staff.”

“When teachers can offer effective intervention and guidance, LGBTQ+ students have a chance to bring their full selves to the classroom and focus on their learning, instead of worrying about being treated differently,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “And all children can learn and benefit from LGBTQ+ inclusive teachers who model respect and who foster a safe community. School districts across the country should take note, and re-examine their own commitments to LGBTQ+-inclusive professional development.”

While California is the first state to allocate specific funding in this way, according to Equality California, the group said many school districts across the country are developing policies to support LGBTQ students — whether that’s through teacher training or a more inclusive curriculum.

For example, five states — California, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon — have passed legislation that requires schools to include LGBTQ history and culture in curriculums, according to GLSEN.

However, whether schools develop supportive policies for LGBTQ students is directly tied to funding, according to a 2015 GLSEN report on anti-bullying policy in states and school districts. The report found that “certain geographic and district community characteristics, such as district funding, were related to the adoption of district anti-bullying policies and the inclusion of key elements.”

The group added, “It is possible that districts that receive funding for legislative mandates are more likely to implement these requirements, which in turn could have an effect on LGBT student experiences.”

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Janelle B. Smith

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