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LGBT Students Protected at Cal State San Marcos and SDSU


The recent suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi and other similar incidents in California have sparked concern over the harrassment and bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students. We talk with an advisor from Cal State San Marcos, a legal expert and a student activist from SDSU about resources available when students feel threatened or degraded.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide just after his roommate posted images of Clementi and another male student having sex. This and and other similar incidents in California have sparked concern over the harassment and bullying of gay, lesbian and transgender students. We talk with an advisor from Cal State San Marcos, a legal expert and a student activist from SDSU about resources available when students feel threatened or degraded.

GUESTS: Robert Hauser, director of the LGBTQ Pride Center, CSUSM

Janelle Fejeran, student, Co-commissioner of Diversity of the Associated Students, SDSU

Robert Dekoven, professor, California Western School of Law,

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The suicide of Tyler Clementi by jumping off the George Washington bridge last month is a tragedy that as riveted the nation. But Tyler is not the only young gay man who took his life last month. Some LGBT sites name a total of five gay students, teenagers and young adults who committed suicide last month because they were threatened, bullied, or shamed by others or the society about their sexual preference. Because of the outpouring of attention from news organizations and celebrities, some see these tragedies as a turning point for the treatment of gay students by their schools and their peers, but it also signals a warning that some students may be at risk right now in cities across America including right here in it San Diego. Joining us to talk about their reaction to the recent suicides and how to keep San Diego gay students safe are my guests issue Robert Hauser is director of the LGBTQ pride center attical state San Marcos and Robert, welcome to These Days.

ROBERT HAUSER: Thank you Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jonelle Farrin is a student and cocommissioner of diversity of the associated students at SDSU. Jonelle, good morning.

JONELLE FARRIN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Robert DeKoven is a professor at California Western School of Law. Good morning, Robert.

ROBERT DECOVEN: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Do you think bullying of gay students on a problem at San Diego campuses? Have you been the victim of bullying yourself? Give us a call with your questions and your comments, our number is 1-888-895-5727. Jonelle, since you're a student at SDSU, I'd like to start with you. And I want to get your reaction to the news of the recent suicides of gay student.

JONELLE FARRIN: Well, gay students specifically all around San Diego, I grew up here in San Diego, home grown, and I went K through 12 and throughout my entire experience when I was in seventh grade, I kid you not, that I had a lot of experiences with my friend, specifically who thought about committing suicide at a very young age just because she didn't feel like she fit in, that she wasn't included. As time progressed, you're able to build communities. I was able to join Gamma Rho Lambda at San Diego State campus, they have offered a really great program called safe zones, which is a program here on campus that insures a campus atmosphere that is welcoming and safe for all members, however, not all people take this take the training. And there definitely times where you experience a lot of heterosexism, a lot of people that like to judge based on what you look like, what your important is. And my experience, when I'm walking around with my partner, specifically, we'll definitely get comments we'll definitely hear like that's a waste of a girl, or that's wrong or that's not okay.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Jonelle, because you're touching on it now, tell us what insights you might have about what could lead a young gay man or a lesbian to that kind of despair?

JONELLE FARRIN: It's basically the whole idea of inclusivity, acceptance, and challenge, I believe, for the community. It's a huge challenge for people to look outside the box of what -- how gender has been constructed or what it means to be in a community that is so set on a woman being this way and a man being this way. And if you fall anywhere outside of that box, it definitely marginalizes you and makes you feel like you're not part of that community, which that sense of belong suggest very important to a student's development in their career, professionally, emotionally, spiritually. And I think if you're really not feeling in, or if you don't conform, technically, you're really push out, and that right this, I believe, that lack of inclusivity, or that lack of acceptance is what would really push a student to its edge.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Robber Hauser, you're director of the LGBTQ Pride Center at Cal State San Marcos. You know, I think a lot of us hearing about these tragic developments last month and ongoing, coming to the forefront of the news, you know, aren't we over this? I mean, haven't we moved to the point where these things don't happen anymore? But tell us why we haven't moved past that yet.

ROBERT HAUSER: Well, I think it's a societal thing. I think that the views the society have of LGBQ folks, students, adults, really rings true to students I think we believe that young people are not really paying attention to what's going on in the world. I used to teach kindergarten. I know that they're aware, if a kindergartener is aware of what's going on in society, and these are the views, Jonelle talked about heterosexism, I mean, if you are even slightly thinking that you might be an LGBT person and you wake up every morning and turn the radio on, what do you hear? You hear songs about men and women loving each other, you get in your car or your parents' car, and you drive to school, and you see bumper stickers with the family that represents male -- a mother, a father and their children. You look at billboards you're driving down the freeway and you see men and women holding hands you don't really see any validation of anybody who might be LGBT, and even if you're not, if you're in a school and someone is assuming that you are, then you're put in that category. And if that's the view of society, then what's what children begin to look at as the view. And so when you are called gay or you called fag in a school, it's pretty much the worst thing that you could be called.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to -- you bring up a good point and that is basically what you're saying is a lot of young people are realizing that they're going to be tagged as different for the rest of their lives. And the recognition of that is something that can -- can put people over the edge.

ROBERT HAUSER: Yeah, I don't even think they're thinking rest of their lives. These are young people, they're thinking in the moment. The group that I'm hanging around with the people that I see, the people that are around me are labeling me this, so whether it's a university setting, whether it's an elementary middle school or high school set, then everyone's gonna start to believe that, are and I'm gonna be put into this category, I'm gonna have less rights than everyone else. I could be bullied, I could be attacked when someone else is not around, and are my teachers are my administrators going to do anything about it? Now they're seeing all of these stories in the media where things were not done. The cypress Texas story really hits home for me because that's the district that I grew up in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Remind us about that?

ROBERT HAUSER: Okay. Asher brown was an eighth grader at Hamilton middle school in the cypress independent school district of it's right outside of Houston and he actually shot himself in the head last week at his family's home, and the parents have been stating that the school had been notified and that nothing was done of I just read an article last night about on line parents have been making complaints. They're actually coming forward and saying that they have gone to the administration, they have gone to the counselors, it was supposed to if to the assistant principal and things were not being done. This poor student was bullied over for two years and finally chose to take his step father's gun, go up and shoot himself, and the school was not doing anything.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. I want to reintroduce my guests. I'm speaking with Robert Hauser, Jonelle Farrin, and Robert DeKoven. I want to get Robert DeKoven in on our conversation. But first I want to remind everyone that we are taking your calls thea 1-888-895-5727. Taking your questions and your comments right now on the line, assembly woman, Lori Saldona. Good morning. Thank you for coming in.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, and good morning to Rob DeKoven. I'm certain he knows that I'm calling to talk about a bill I introduced addressing bullying in private schools. We can set public policies to make our schools a safe place for all of our students but unfortunately in private schools there are different standards, and since Robert's there, I'll let him discuss and was vetoed by the governor this year, but I'll just say that the safety of our children in every situation, educational and -- is essential. And when I found out that private schools may not in fact follow up to make a safe you environment for students under these bullies conditions, I introduced AB 1680, it was vetoed and I'll rob as your guest talk with some of the teethes of that bill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for calling in. Of and once again, the number is 1-888-895-5727. So professor Robert DeKoven, you've got a perfect opportunity there to tell us more about the situation that created a need that assembly woman Saldona saw for a new law protecting students in private schools.

ROBERT HAUSER: Well, 50 of all, California is really ahead of the game in many respects in terms of having laws that require schools to react to student complaints. So as Robert mentioned and I also want to mention it to parent fist they know that a child is being bullied abused for any reason whatsoever, whether the student is gay, lesbian or perceived to be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, whatever it is, the parents should have documentation and talk to school administrators so that the school administrators have a chance to provide a reasonable response, whatever that is. Because California law requires that, in our public schools, now as Robert mentioned on the federal level, and this is a problem, we do not have a federal law that requires, specifically, schools to react to these student complaints in other states. Many states have bullying laws in the schools, but Texas is one that I don't believe does. And we dependent have a federal response. And I think when you have these suicides, this is interesting I think for everyone to realize, I think that if five students committed suicide because they were being harassed because of the color of their skin, are or their religion, the FBI -- there would be hell to pay, and the FBI would be responds to that specifically to find out what's going on in these schools.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Robert, I want to ask you specifically about this -- Tyler Clementi allegation where he was apparently -- his relationship with another male student was apparently videotaped or actually put on camera and put on the Internet. And I'm -- I'm interested, did this -- this is just rife with so many legal issues about the culpability of the people who did this, and where are we in the idea of cyber space bullying? Do we have the kinds of laws or the kinds of insight that we need to protect people from this?

ROBERT HAUSER: This is the number one issue that is problematic. The problem has been that on the federal level, the cores are split on the issues to whether or not schools have any jurisdiction over what occurs off campus, and so therefore they don't believe they can take action. And then on the other hand, and this is -- alludes to the bill that lory was mentioning, is that we have people who feel that they have a constitutional right to Harris and bully people on the Internet. And if a school were to take action, that would be a violation of the perpetrator's civil rights. And that's the problem. And I think the hope is that at some point the Supreme Court takes up one of these cases and finally announces that the first amendment does not protect bullying and harassment on the Internet, that the standard is not a -- what we call a tinker standard, a first amendment standard, but that actually it is a crime, and it is a hate crime because cyber bullying is essentially threatening conduct and insulating conduct that is designed to Harris and intimidate the victim. And until that happens, unfortunately, we're in a quandary as to what schools can and can't do with regard to responding to the cyber bullying of but the latest California cases have now made is very clear that schools do in fact have the ability to discipline students who are engaged in cyber bullying, that this is a nexus between the cyber bullying and what goes on at school. And that no child, just like any employee, should not be in an environment where they are subject to harassment and abuse and intimidation. So that's basically where it stands. So California is kind of ahead of the game, but federally, this is an issue.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are talking about keeping San Diego students safe from bullying, specifically San Diego's gay students, and we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let's hear from mark in San Diego. Good morning mark, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes. Do you have a question?

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, are, it was a comment, and actually, it wasn't regarding gay or lesbian, I didn't catch that part when I made my call. I was just calling in reference to my daughter who was going to Correa, this is in the 90s and I went to wake her up and this is right after school started maybe six weeks, and to go to school and she did not want to get out of bed, she did not want to go, and I talked to her, and she said he had been bullied and picked on and pushed and called names. And I talked to her about it, and my wife used to make them dresses and they wore real dresses and apparently that wasn't the correct attire. But in any case, I went down and talked to the vice principal. And he said at the time that she just needed to learn to deal with people that treat her like that. And I didn't agree with him. And I mentioned that if we had been working as coworkers and I was pushing him and calling him names he wouldn't be able to focus. But in any case, he refused to budge on it. Said she just needs to learn how to deal with.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: She just needs -- and.

NEW SPEAKER: And at that moment, I just pulled her right out of school and moved her over to Stanley at that time. That was my only comment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, thank you. Thank you for the call. I appreciate it. And and Robert Hauser, that idea of kids just need to get used to it. It's a tough world out there, they just gotta tough it out. Is that still the kind of advice people hear.

ROBERT HAUSER: Unfortunately that is, in most cases, harassment ends up being unreported. Nearly two thirds of LGBT students Experience harassment or assault that's never reported to the schools. The reason they give is they don't believe anybody at the school is going to address the situation. And unfortunately like the gentleman, the caller's daughter, that's what happens, students do not go to school. They want to stay home. They skip school, and they're missing out on their education because they're being labeled something that they quite possibly are not.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. I want to hear from Jonelle, but first we have to take a short break. When we return, we'll go right to you Jonelle, and we're also gonna continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listen to be these days on KPBS.

Welcome back, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We're talking about keeping San Diego's gay students safe, and my guests are Robert Hauser, he's director of the LGBTQ pride center at Cal State San Marcos. Jonelle Farrin is a student and cocommissioner of diversity of the associated students at SDSU. And Robert DeKoven is professor at the California Western school of law and we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 Jonelle, right off the bat, you told us that you know, you hear comments perhaps when you're walking on campus and people assume that you're straight and that has a -- that bring ace pressure on you as to whether or not you're gonna inform people of what your personal preference is. And I'm wondering that -- San Diego state university actually has a reputation was a very diverse and welcoming campus. So I'm wondering where those two fall. Do you feel that San Diego state is actually pretty welcoming for students with a diverse backgrounds and diverse orientations?

JONELLE FARRIN: Well, this is my perspective on that, as diversity commissioner, we had to do a report that evaluated all of the things concerning diversity, whether it was training, and diversity is everything, it's sexual orientation, it's age, it's ablism, it's a lot of different things, and in relation to specifically the well, GBT community we were actually voted one of the top 20 LGBT campuses here in San Diego. And we were ranked five along with UCSD. And these are based on the resources that we have on campus and, I would say that our campus climate in terms of diversity is growing, and it's continuing to grow and I'm glad to be I part of that. None the less, I think there's a difference between tolerance and acceptance. Acceptance is whether it really challenges the community to think outside of the box of their own privleges versus tolerance and I know that oh, yeah, but you don't have to show me that. Or if you're gay, that's okay but I don't really want to know of things like that, almost it's almost accepting it's still very silencing, it's still pushing people away from building a bridge or building that connection. And I would definitely encourage those to challenge themselves. San Diego state offers four really great programs, one be being safe zones that's an allied program here on campus, I mentioned it earlier. It directly address social justice issues and combats homophobia through continuous effort and high visibility and all aspects of campus life and education. So there's one organization. LGBTSU, that's our student organization. They are resources and our speakers' bureaus so they speak in different classrooms and educate different classrooms about identity cashing the legislate community and then there's gamma lam da, are it's a queer based social -- focussing on fostering a progressive environment for all of its members and San Diego state students to excel. And communities where you can talk about things like that. So I would definitely say we're growing, Maureen, and I am watching it -- being a part of it, it's so fulfilling but at the same time you still have people who have no idea with what's go on, and it's really with them taking that initiative and also being a part of that, that conversation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Robert Hauser, give us a snapshot on how things are for gay, lesbian, transgendered students at Cal State San Marcos.

ROBERT HAUSER: All right. At CSU we really try to be proactive. We have a president, Karen Hanes, and she really believes in the human value of the university. We do have a social justice summit each year, we to I social justice symposium. We have a diversity and equity coordinator. Through my program which is the pride Center through associated students at Cal State, we too have a safe zone program similar to what Jonelle spoke about, where the go through a three to four hour workshop where they learn about LGBT students and really learn about talking to LGBT students and really listening to them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do they say? Excuse me, then, when a student comes into the safe zone, what are the kinds of complaints and problems that you usually hear about? Why do they need that resource?

ROBERT HAUSER: I think the first thing is they just see it when they complete the program, they make a choice to become part of our safe zone community where they're able to put you know an 11 by 17 poster on their door, placards so that there's actually a symbol that they have a safe place, I had a student that I spoke to last week, and I kind of knew of him, but actually we got to sit down and have a talk. And he said that when he moved here from no, went to the school that just seeing the posters on the doors when he went to advising, when he went to a professor's office, that he felt like he could go in there and talk to them in a safe environment even if it was just about school. Of you know? But he also felt he -- like if there was a problem, if he felt like he was ever having a problem in a class, that he could -- if that professor had that safe zone poster on his or her door, he could go in and feel like it was a safe environment, unlike the elementary schools we were talking about, are where the students cont feel like they can do anything because the teachers look the other way. There's an opportunity for a student to feel like if something were happening, he could go in, talk to them, and talk about what the university would do. All 23 CSUs have a student conduct policy. She guaranteed that we would really follow through and make sure that students pay the price. That they really were held to the highest accountable.


ROBERT HAUSER: Of the -- for that conduct policy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right right. Let's take another call. Gary and calling from Point Loma, good morning, Gary and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I just wanted to call and follow up from the professor caller about the incident at Correa and dealing with a similar incident ask it sounded like he was referring to something that happened back in the 90s and I just wanted listeners to know that here it is 2010, and we're still dealing with the same kind of issues at Correa, maybe it's just a coincidence, but you'll hear your school come up on the air easily or maybe it's something specific to the student body and the -- and the administration and teachers at Correa, but I just wanted to reiterate that we're dealing with the same issue some 15 years later, same school.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gary, thank you for the call. And that's kind of a depressing call, but thank you for it anyway. I wonder, Robert DeKoven, why would be the difference? How do you see this whole thing working out differently if indeed it were federally protected? If gay students were federally protected. I'm sorry. I can't even get it out. The way that students are if they're being harassed because they're of a different religion or a different race? How would that change the picture?

ROBERT HAUSER: Well, I think it's multifaceted. On the one hand, you need to have a federal government that does not sanction or institutionalize discrimination against gay and lesbian persons and that obviously deals with don't ask, don't tell, and deals with the marriage rights so I think it starts with that. But the idea of sending a message, and president Obama did sign the Matthew Shepherd hate crimes act last year, and I think we used this term bullying to describe something that's really more extremely serious. And they're really hate crimes. When a student is physically abused, that's a battery. And maybe just because of his or her sexual orientation or seems to be, that's a hate crime. And San Diego is ahead of the game in many respects, our district attorney is a lesbian, our U.S. attorney is a lesbian, and they take these bullying cases extremely seriously. And Bonnie Depanis has made is very clear that schools need to respond and if not, she wants to know because the DA's office, and local prosecutors will take action, that no child in San Diego for any should be subject to any kind of physical abuse in it a school. And I just wanted to mention that there is also a local gay and lesbian center, I checked last Friday, they're serving about 400 students a month in San Diego County, are primarily serving the most vulnerable group which are basically male and female students, the anal is 14 to 18. And so they can provide support for teens. And also for parents who are experiencing what Gary has said where he feels he's not getting a response. Schools are required to take a reasonable measure to identify those students who are doing the bullying, and if need be, suspend them or excel them or otherwise change that behavior.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Jonelle, if indeed if there were some students on SDSU's campus, you've basically told us the resources that there are on campus. Of but if there were a kid who was really going through a hard time with coming to terms with their sexual and hearing the stuff that you -- you know, the little bits here and there that you -- what would your advice be for a student going through that?

JONELLE FARRIN: My advice would be to find the person -- or find somebody -- this is the hardest thing, I think, what Robert was talking about in terms of visibility, having a safe zone symbol to know that person is very concerned with me and my well being here on this campuses, is finding those, really attending those. I have a specific story where my best friend, she got a full rights scholarship to USD, and she instead went to UCSD because they had UCSD has the LGBT resource center. That's what sold her. Because that in itself is gonna allow her to pursue her dreams, her goals. To be in a hospitable place that's not accepting or it kind of pushes it, it's like that elephant in the room, it's not okay, and it's not very nourishing to a person's experience and growth. So my advice would definitely be to seek out friends and resources, and find somebody that you can look up to. A mentor. That's why Center in San Diego are very imperative, centers for San Diego state, they're very important for students to be able to find that solidarity and support to be who they are especially when things are so heavy like homophobia.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line, I think who has a very important question right now. Landon is calling from San Diego. Gorge, landon. Good morning. Of welcome to These Days. New landon are you on the line? Okay. All right then. Landon wanted to know how can we help? How can the larger community help, Robert?

ROBERT HAUSER: All right, there's a couple of things. Robert previously spoke about California. We have AB 537 which is the California student safety and violence prevention act. I think all parents need to educate themselves. They can did to AB Learn about what your school is supposed to be doing, and held them accountable. These are your children who are stepping into a school and they need to be protected. We also -- we talked any kind of on the national level Robert also spoke about the president, HR 2262, which is a safe schools approval act is actually locked in committee. The senator that actually brought it to pass, representative Linda Sanchez, which is I Democrat, from California in the house June 4th, 2009, it's 2010, October, then that's not a senate bill at this time. People really need to call your Congressmen, call your U.S. senators, pass the safe schools improvement act. If we fail to protect our students on a national level, then where are we going to be? We're gonna see more and more of these suicides. People need to realize that people are talking about these five suicides that made it into the media. I have a list of 15, 20 right here. Seven specifically in one school district. These are happening, parents are not reporting them because their student might have been labeled gay or lesbian and they know, well, my son's not gay. But do they want that pressure from society to go out to the public media and say my son was gay or they called my son gay, really he's not, but their child is dead.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And it's calling people gay, whether or not it's true especially at the ages we're talking about in grammar school. And if these measures were put into effect, Robert DeKoven, would it make everybody safer do you think.

ROBERT HAUSER: Oh, yeah, definitely. There's no question about that. And I think it's really a perspective that people need to have that no child -- no child for any reason whatsoever should be subjected to abuse at school. And we should have a tolerance policy for that, and we should react accord will, and it may get it that that needs to happen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you all. We are out of time. I know you have so much more to say of thank you so much for participating, Robert Hauser, Jonelle Farrin, and Robert DeKoven.

ROBERT HAUSER: And thank you for doing the show. It's a very, very good idea.

JONELLE FARRIN: Yes, thank you so much. This is very important to the community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're very welcome. I want to let everybody know that if they didn't get I chance to comment, they can go on-line at slash These Days.

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