A new California law awaiting a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom would encourage teachers at public and charter schools to undergo LGBTQ training, something the San Luis Coastal Unified School District is already doing.
Assembly Bill 493 is directed at teachers in grades 7 through 12 and seeks to educate those teachers on how to better support their LGBTQ students and create a classroom climate of support.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District is now in the second year of a 5-year equity program, which helps educate teachers on LGBTQ issues.
"We've made progress but we still have a ways to go," Dr. Eric Prater, the district superintendent, said.
The district's equity training aims to give teachers tools to help students struggling with gender identity and sexual orientation.
"It's hard enough to confront that as an individual and within your family unit. but when you come to school, it shouldn't have to be that added burden," Prater said.
It's a burden this district knows well. In a 2017 letter to the school newspaper, a former teacher cited a bible passage saying homosexuals deserve to die.
That teacher, Michael Stack resigned, and the district launched its equity program shortly thereafter.
"Making sure that things at school for those students would improve," Richard Mayfield, the district's learning and achievement director, said.
According to a 2017 survey completed by students in the district, found over 580 students in grades 7, 9, and 11 identified as LGBTQ. For those students, who represent more than 6 percent of all respondents, they reported feeling less safe and accepted at school and they exhibited higher rates of suicidal thoughts.
Jasper Wilson, a 17-year-old recent graduate of Paloma Creek High School in the Atascadero Unified School District, believes more education for teachers would help other LGBTQ students.
"It's very important for, like, confidence and it can also prevent suicidal thoughts and depression because I know that's what happens a lot," Wilson said. "(Suicidal thoughts) happened to me."
While enrolled at Paloma Creek, Wilson came out as non-binary, an identity that does not subscribe to any gender.
"I use they/them pronouns," Wilson said. "Whenever somebody gets my pronouns wrong, it feels like a knife stabbing into my chest."
Teachers were supportive of Wilson's decision, but Wilson said some simply didn't understand.
That lack of understanding is something legislators, as well as the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, intend to change.
"Have students feel connected and comfortable and accepted and celebrated," Mayfield said.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District plans to expand the training to elementary school teachers next month.
High School students in the district's student senate also discuss LGBTQ issues they see and hear in the hallways and in the classrooms, so that they can work toward meaningful change in the school.
"I'm so proud of the work they're doing," Prater said.