Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez speaks to YETA youth.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez speaks to YETA youth.
Laura Kanter/The Center OC

OC Youth Speak Out Against LGBT Bullying; Betty Degeneres, Ellen's Mom, Joins In

Orange County students have ignited a know-your-laws campaign in light of an anti-gay bullying measure that went into effect on July 1. AB9, dubbed Seth's Law after Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old boy who committed suicide upon experiencing persistent homophobic harassment at school, mandates that California's public schools enact anti-bullying policies.

Some young adults, who work under Orange County's Center for Gay and Lesbian Community Services, seek to ensure that high school students cite these laws when they experience bullying or discrimination. They have released an online public service announcement featuring Betty Degeneres, mother of Ellen Degeneres, to educate students about their responsibilities of administrators and teachers when students experience bullying.  

"If you're bullied, your school is now obligated to do something about it immediately," say students in the video. "And if your school doesn't protect you, you may have the right to transfer to a new school district."

Approximately 12% of junior high school students in Orange County experience sexual orientation-based bullying according to a recent report conducted by the California Healthy Kids Survey. That number decreases to 8% for Orange County high school students.

One of the students who appeared in the video is Blake Danford, friend of Kearian Giertz, a senior at Fullerton Union High School who was disqualified from the school's annual "Mr. Fullerton Pageant," because he made a pro-gay marriage remark during the question-and-answer portion. The student was asked where he envisioned himself in 10 years to which he responded that he hoped gay marriage would be legal so he could marry the man of his dreams. The school's assistant principal directed Giertz off the stage and dismissed him from the contest.

Giertz's friends, Danford and Katelyn Hall, launched a letter-writing campaign shortly thereafter to raise awareness about the incident. They asked students, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" And they added their vision of a safe education environment.

"The letters were meant to be a vehicle," wrote Danford in an article featured on Huffington Post Gay Voices. "[It was meant] to show the assistant principal that the students of FUHS wanted to live in a world free of hatred and bullying, including the type of bullying that he had displayed onstage that night."

Danford reflected on his experience with bullying in high school. After fellow peers continually nagged him with anti-gay slurs, he wrote a lengthy e-mail to the school principal, who forwarded it to the assistant principal who then suggested that Danford look into professional therapy. In the course of all of it, he learned that the Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus wasn't allowed to observe the National Day of Silence, which calls attention to the silence that some victims of anti-gay bullying resort to in the face of harassment.

Danford and Hall's joined forces with Laura Kanter, who directs Youth Empowered to Act - a youth leadership organization aimed towards LGBT students. The organization helps bolster and promote campaign efforts.

"A lot of administrators don't really know what the laws are for LGBT students and that's where this campaign comes in," says Kanter. "We're trying to make sure that all of the youth that need to know about these laws know them."

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