SB 777, the newly enacted Student Civil Rights Act, remains in effect

(Sacramento, CA, January 11, 2008) — Equality California (EQCA), the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network), Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Transgender Law Center (TLC) responded today to the failure of a signature drive to overturn the newly enacted California Student Civil Rights Act, SB 777.

The new law, which went into effect on January 1st, reinforces existing prohibitions of discrimination in publicly-funded schools and activities, including discrimination based on religion, race, disability, gender and sexual orientation. Opponents of SB 777 announced Thursday that they had gathered only 350,000 signatures, well short of the more than 433,000 necessary to qualify a referendum on the June 2008 ballot.

Today, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown filed a motion to dismiss a related lawsuit attempting to invalidate the statutes. “Opponents of SB 777 have been spreading misinformation and outright lies for months, and whether they actually collected 350,000 signatures, we will never know,” said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors. “What is clear is that they failed. Despite their vicious attack, Californians stood with us and said ‘no’ to turning back the clock on civil rights and protecting all youth from discrimination in our schools.”

EQCA and the GSA Network last month filed a motion to intervene in federal district court in San Diego to defend SB 777. EQCA was the official sponsor of SB 777, authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), and both organizations actively supported the law, which updates the Education Code to clearly reflect current law so school administrators and teachers know their responsibilities to protect students without having to cross-reference other sections of state law. The two organizations are represented by NCLR, Lambda Legal, TLC, the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, LLP and the Law Office of David C. Codell.

“We’re glad that Californians saw through the fear-based tactics behind this failed referendum attempt, signaling instead that they share our vision of schools where every student deserves a safe place to learn,” said Carolyn Laub, executive director of GSA Network. According to the 2001 California Healthy Kids Survey, nearly 30 percent of California youth in grades seven to 11 report experiencing harassment or bullying based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

“With a third of California’s students facing harassment or even violence, it’s offensive that our opponents are wasting taxpayer dollars making an issue out of this,” said Brian Chase, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “This law protects all kids, and this attempt to strip away badly- needed protections is hateful and mean-spirited.”

“The opponents of SB 777 failed to gather enough signatures because the vast majority of Californians strongly support safety and equality,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “SB 777 is a common sense measure to combat bullying and harassment in public schools, and I am confident that any future efforts to attack SB 777 will fall equally flat.”

“The people of California support the civil rights of our students, plain and simple,” said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. “The failure of opponents of SB 777 to obtain enough signatures for a referendum comes as no surprise. Californians recognized this as an extremist effort to open our classrooms to discrimination and harassment. It is heartwarming to know that California students live in a state where people respect their civil rights.”

California’s Legislature passed SB 777 in September and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law on October 12, 2007.

The lawsuit challenging SB 777 was filed by lawyers for Advocates for Faith and Freedom and the Alliance Defense Fund in federal district court in San Diego in November.

About Equality California:Founded in 1998, Equality California celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2008, commemorating a decade of building a state of equality in California. EQCA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians. http://www.eqca.org/

GSA Network is a nonprofit organization, governed by youth and adults, that empowers youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools through Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. There are currently more than 650 GSA clubs in California schools, including more than 45% of the public high schools. www.gsanetwork.org/.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. http://www.lambdalegal.org/.

The Transgender Law Center is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender communities through direct legal services, education, community organizing, and policy and media advocacy. http://www.transgenderlawcenter.org/.