Speak UP member Gloria Rodriguez testified to the Board in March about the discrimination her lesbian daughter faced at her LAUSD school, where teachers and staff asked invasive questions and told her that she was not allowed to hold hands with her girlfriend at school.
Inspired in part by her story, as well as his own experiences growing up Latino and gay, Board Member Ref Rodriguez (BD5) has co-sponsored a resolution to be voted on Tuesday to significantly increase support for LGBTQ students through sensitivity training, celebrations of LGBTQ History Month, more inclusive and representative textbooks, a web portal with resources and an analysis of all-gender bathrooms at district schools.
“I’m very grateful for Dr. Rodriguez because he stepped up for my kid,” Gloria said. (The two share the same last name but are not related.) “I feel very happy about someone actually doing something for the LGBTQ youth and community in our schools.”
The resolution will affect an estimated 27,000 LAUSD students who self-identity as LGBTQ or gender non-conforming. According to the GLSEN National School Climate Survey, 75.2% of LGBTQ students in schools with an inclusive curriculum said their peers were accepting of them, compared to 39.6% of those without one. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that LGBTQ high school students have significantly higher risk of being bullied (28% versus 11%), suicide attempts (26% versus 6.5%), feeling sad and hopeless (66% versus 27%), and dating violence (17% versus 3.4%).
Aside from Gloria’s advocacy, Dr. Rodriguez said he was also moved to bring this resolution by East Los Angeles student members of the Latino Equality Alliance. “What I found in these young people was bravery that I did not have at their age,” Dr. Rodriguez told Speak UP. “I was not like that when I was in high school. I did not come out until I was in college. A lot of it had to do with leaving home and fully defining myself in college away from all the expectations of my family and friends. So to see these young people in high school be sure of who they are and advocating for the things that they know are right — it moved me.”
The students argued for better implementation of California’s FAIR Education Act of 2012, which requires that LGBTQ people be included in social science curricula. According to Gloria, when her daughter asked her history teacher why her school was not teaching LGBTQ history, she was told, “it’s going to be offensive for other people.”
Latino Equality Alliance students also argue that many LAUSD schools only have single-stall, all-gender bathrooms in school offices, and for a student to ask for a key can be stigmatizing and can out students against their will. This resolution directs the district to examine whether additional multi-stall, all-gender restrooms can be opened in areas accessible to everyone.
One of the most important components of the resolution – and the one Gloria focused on the most – involves competency training on LGBTQ issues for teachers, staff, administrators, and parents. “That’s very important to me and that’s something that to this day has not been done in my school,” Gloria said. “This needs to happen, especially in our communities where it is still [considered] weird and odd to see a girl with a girl walking down the street.”
Dr. Rodriguez believes the parent education piece is essential, especially in his own Latino community, where family rejection is a big risk factor. Latino boys are the most vulnerable to this type of rejection. “Latino culture is very machista,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “Being effeminate or being interested in things like the arts [is sometimes] shunned. Even being studious is considered somewhat effeminate…The male archetype is so pervasive in Latino culture that to not meet it means that you are not a man.”
Rodriguez’s own family was “very male-oriented” and led by a father who “worked with his hands,” he said. “I certainly was a studious kid, was not into sports, worked in drama club and the arts, and so I internalized a lot of belief as a result of what my culture was indirectly telling me. A lot of it wasn't spoken, which makes it even worse, right? Nobody's talking about it, and the shame is so strong growing up.”
Rodriguez said he’d like to see trainings available at parent centers. “We don't want to force parents or family members to take a class or workshop that they feel uncomfortable in,” he said. “But it is something that will help open the doors, at least, a conversation to try to get to this underlying machista and anti-gay or anti-diversity notions that there are in the Latino culture — and lot of [other] cultures, as well.”
This is especially crucial for families of transgender kids who may want to change their gender expression in public. “We're now seeing more kids identifying themselves transgender in middle school and some even in elementary school, which I think is fantastic, [especially if] there are supportive and inclusive families,” he said. “But for those kids who don't have supportive and inclusive families, maybe they can find that support and inclusion in our schools. Because if they don't, at a very, very early age, there will be hatred and shame.”
LAUSD offered more such trainings when the Office of Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity Diversity had a staff of 10 to 15 people. “That has been scaled back tremendously, obviously, because of funding,” Dr. Rodriguez said, and there’s now just one employee doing that work for the entire district. The resolution directs the superintendent to look at staffing levels, and Dr. Rodriguez believes “there are philanthropists who are very active in the LGBTQ world that we could tap for resources.”
This resolution to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ kids could potentially be among the final resolutions that Dr. Rodriguez spearheads at the Board. There is increasing speculation that he may be preparing to step down from his seat in coming months if offered a plea deal for charges that he personally repaid some of his campaign donors for contributions without publicly disclosing that.
While Dr. Rodriguez has declined to comment publicly on his legal case, a preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 23, and he recently resigned from the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which oversees the integrity and quality of California's teachers. If he does resign his Board seat, one option the Board has is to appoint a non-voting member to replace him until a special election can be held.