Legislators need to hear from young people before making decisions that impact students’ lives. That’s why GSA Network started Queer Youth Advocacy Day (QYAD) and the GSA Advocacy & Youth Leadership Academy (GAYLA) seven years ago. And that’s why, on April 30th, 55 students stood on the Capitol Steps in Sacramento to demand that LGBT youth voices be heard.
GAYLA, a three-day training that prepares youth for QYAD, is always an empowering experience. 2012 was no different, as Kayla Evans told the Bay Area Reporter. "I never realized I had the resources to talk to elected representatives to advocate for new laws,” said Kayla, a junior at River City High School in West Sacramento. “I realize now that I can."
This year’s GAYLA built upon years of queer youth activism, including last year’s successful passage of the FAIR Education Act, the Gender Nondiscrimination Act, and Seth’s Law. While some students lobbied for AB 2242 and AB 1729, bills that would reduce out-of-school suspension and expulsion, others spoke to state administrators about the need to enforce safe schools laws once they’re passed.
“What we have accomplished here in Sacramento has been instrumental in ensuring that schools are safe for all students,” Emily Coffin, a senior at Saugus High School, told youth and reporters at the QYAD press conference. “But this is not Vegas, and what happens in Sacramento cannot stay in Sacramento.”
“Every year that I come to Queer Youth Advocacy Day I learn so much about policies and laws that I can bring back to my school to improve climates for queer youth in my district,” Emily continued. “Every year I eagerly go home and set up meetings with administrators at my school to extend the work that queer youth have been doing in Sacramento for decades now. Every year, I am let down by seeing all of the work that we have done in Sacramento fail to reciprocate where it matters most – in my school.”
Press conference MC and Carlsbad High School senior Trio Harris set the tone and stage for Emily when he opened the rally. “It is important that we hold schools accountable for keeping students safe. It should not rest upon the shoulders of the youth to do the jobs that our schools districts are by law required to do.”
Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, Toni Atkins, Betsy Butler, Roger Dickinson, Rich Gordon, and Ricardo Lara joined Trio, Emily, Kayla, and seven other youth leaders in addressing the crowd. Assemblymembers Ammiano and Dickenson authored the two bills at the center of QYAD, AB 1729 and AB 2242, which would reduce suspensions for minor infractions and encourage alternatives to suspension and expulsion.
Sasha Zaroyan, a sophomore at Monrovia High School, talked about the seven years of bullying he experienced – and how suspending his aggressors only made things worse. “When they returned from their suspension, the situation worsened. They became more aggressive with me. I know this is common because my friends have had similar experiences.” AB 1729, Sasha told the crowd, “would provide a safer environment in schools for all students by educating aggressors about the consequences of their actions.”
GSA Network hopes that legislators were listening to Sasha and to all of the other brave young people who spent that day visiting lawmakers' offices and talking to them and their staff. And we know that the new bonds and enthusiasm for change built at GAYLA will continue in participants' GSA work.
GAYLA and Queer Youth Advocacy Day were sponsored by Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Equality California Institute, The Trevor Project, Transgender Law Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union of California. GSA Network sincerely thanks the co-sponsoring organizations, youth participants, youth trainers, elected officials, staff, volunteers, college mentors, and generous donors who made this event a success.