In January 2016, the Dolores Huerta Foundation launched its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Equality Program. Equality Organizers, Moises Duran and Dean Welliver, are working to organize students, families, and community members to take a more pronounced and active role in creating safe and welcoming school climates, mobilizing the LGBT vote, addressing health inequalities like STD transmission rates and lack of health care services for transgender residents, and providing safe spaces for LGBT and straight allied youth to grow as leaders! DHF launched the program to address the inequalities that LGBT residents of Kern County are experiencing in the areas of health, education, youth, and civic engagement.
They started the group Teens 4 LGBT Equality. It is currently the only active community based youth group in Kern County providing engaging and fun extracurricular activities focused on building community and learning about LGBT identities and rights.
While California does have legal protections safeguarding LGBT student’s rights, Kern High School District (KHSD) has failed to make all students feel safe. KHSD Board of Trustees member Chad Vegas stated publicly that LGBT students are “sexually perverse” and “mentally ill” at a school board meeting addressing a non-discrimination policy intended to protect transgender students. He invited parishioners from his church who made disparaging comments towards the LGBT community, including the malicious misgendering of a trans-woman giving public comment. In the face of these hostile and traumatic attacks, the LGBT community showed great strength and poise and was ultimately able to celebrate the policy approval.
LGBT Youth Prom
Youth in Kern County experience a lack of LGBT-inclusive social spaces. On June 17th, the DHF Teens 4 LGBTQ Equality group planned “Let Your Queer Glow”- the first teen-led Kern County LGBT youth dance. They transformed the Bakersfield Gay and Lesbian Center into a glowing neon space galaxy. Over fifty of their peers danced and enjoyed themselves without having to worry about potential backlash from other students and staff.
Fifteen year-old West High Student Toni attended the dance and said, “My favorite part was that I could talk with people that know what I’m going through. You get to be yourself and celebrate it. It’s really fun.”
“Joining Teens 4 LGBTQ Equality has had a positive impact on my life, because I would have never done stuff like this before! It has motivated me to go outside of my comfort zone and try new things! My favorite part of being in the program is that I get to be involved in the community and meet other youth who are facing the same challenges we face and who understand our problems!” –Teen Leader, Paola Hinojosa.
LGBT Youth Advocacy Impacts KHSD Policy
Teens 4 LGBT Equality, Dolores Huerta Foundation and allied organizations working together to provide a safer school climate, education, and visibility for LGBTQ Youth and allies were given extensive training on the school budget process and the Local Control Accountability Plan, how to advocate for their educational needs, and in core competencies such as public speaking, outreach, and facilitating meetings. The curriculum also explored the school to prison pipeline, sexual education/health, power and oppression, bullying and victimization, student’s rights and a history of the LGBTQ movement. Youth discussed their personal experiences and identified gaps in services and policies in the Kern High School District (KHSD). Through the LCAP process, youth were provided an opportunity to directly advocate for their needs and practice public speaking. Fifteen students attended several LCAP public input sessions and provided recommendations to the KHSD board.
The students advocated for cultural competency trainings for staff, implementation of the School Success and Opportunity Act (allowing all students to participate in activities regardless of their birth gender), anti-bullying policies and procedures, implementing the California Healthy Kids Survey to understand health needs, gender neutral restrooms and greater LGBTQ resources at parent centers and counselors’ offices. In the final LCAP, approved by the KHSD board in June, many of the recommendations were included such as hiring additional teachers to reduce class sizes, hiring more counselors to increase the accessibility of academic guidance, more advanced placement classes offered and staff cultural competency trainings.