“Hitting, punching, shoving, kicking.”
All were forms of aggression that LGBTQ-plus youth reported experiencing, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey. Approximately 63% of gay/lesbian/bisexual students in SLO County reported being bullied and/or harassed in 2021-22. Additionally, nearly 50% said they had “seriously considered suicide,” Dusty Colyer-Worth told the Paso Robles Co-ed School District Board on Aug. 9.
“I was one of those young people at some point,” said the Gala Pride and Diversity Center’s new executive director, who graduated from Paso Robles High School in 1997. “I don’t want to be back here 25 years after now having to share those numbers again.”
He spoke at a hearing on proposed changes to the district’s Harassment and Discrimination Bylaw, which he characterized as reducing language protecting intersex, non-binary, transgender and gender nonconforming.
“The bare minimum of the law … may seem sufficient for those who have never had to defend their right to exist in a space,” Colyer-Worth said. “There is no excuse for you not to be innovative, to continually seek betterment, and to be explicit in your support for our LGBTQI-plus young people and the treatment they deserve and must be respected. .”
Before the hearing began, District Superintendent Curt Dubost said much of the language included in the settlement was approved in 2020, with an update made in March 2022 based on recommendations from California. School Boards Association. This version of the regulations “immediately caused controversy,” he said, because of its inclusion of more detail for the protection of LGBTQ-plus students than for other classes of students. Because of those concerns, he said the district “needs the assistance of legal counsel to determine what is mandated” in order to comply with state law.
“Tonight’s review removes much of the LGBTQ-specific protections [the administrative regulation]. That doesn’t mean the protection still doesn’t apply,” Dubost said. “The laws are changing on these subjects. … Several lawyers have contributed to the final draft, which tries to find the balance we are looking for.”
The proposal removes a section of the regulations titled “Issues unique to intersex, non-binary, transgender and gender non-conforming students.” The section included definitions of terms such as ‘gender transition’, ‘a student’s gender identity’ and ‘intersex student’; listed examples of prohibited behaviors that could be considered gender-based harassment; describes what constitutes a student’s right to privacy; and detailed how the district would support a student’s gender identity and transition.
Almost all of the public comments during the meeting focused on what the school district should do to protect students. But they differed on what that meant. Although teachers and members of the LGBTQ-plus community spoke about making sure LGBTQ-plus students feel safe at school, several parents said they were concerned about using the toilet, locker rooms, sports teams and girls “changing in front of a boy”.
San Luis Obispo Republican Party Chairman Randall Jordan said he was happy to see the district providing gender-neutral or single-use restrooms or change rooms. But, he added, the very next sentence of the bylaw states that the district would not require a student to use these options.
“If you feel like you’re a different gender, you can pretty much do whatever you want,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t work. You can’t give someone privacy and then take it away, that’s what you’re doing. … The proposed settlement should be reviewed.”
Many speakers who thought the district should leave the bylaw as it was said they felt the district had changed direction after promising the LGBTQ-plus community that it would take action to ensure that incidents such as what happened last year – when students tore down a Pride flag from a high school classroom and filmed themselves defecating on it – would not happen again in the future.
“As a result of this hateful action, our district has had to face the reality that many LGBTQ students feel unsafe and unprotected in our district,” high school teacher Geoffrey Land said, adding that the high school was progressing in the right direction. “My concerns are really for the students in my classes and in district schools who feel unprotected and at risk. … These actions are overdue, we are making progress and I fear that tonight we will be diverted from our course.”
School board members voted unanimously to table the proposal, saying the issue merited further discussion and hinting at the possibility of having a study session in the near future. Dubost responded to concerns raised about the district’s forward movement, following the Pride flag incident.
“In no way do I or the District shirk from the commitment we made to these wonderful children who had the grace to forgive me for the mistakes I made during my initial stewardship, and my commitment to these kids is unwavering. But I’m also responsible for all the other kids in the school,” he said. “We have to figure out exactly what the law is and be fair to everyone.” Δ