It gets better

In recent months, there has been growing attention given to the issue of bullying, following a rash of suicides by young people who were victims of harassment by their peers. In light of these tragic incidents, it is time for us to take a new look at how youth struggle when they become targets of verbal, emotional or physical harassment on school grounds or on the Internet.

In school surveys, nearly half of all high school students say they have been bullied in the past year. Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are at an even higher risk of being harassed. About 85 percent of LGBT students report that they have been bullied and, shockingly, 20 percent of them report that they have been physically assaulted. Unfortunately, victims of bullying often become depressed, which can lead to truancy, isolation and low self-esteem. Tragically, some victims are driven to hurt themselves as a last resort to stop the emotional and physical pain.

California has passed landmark laws in recent years to help prevent bullying in public schools. The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 was landmark legislation authored by then-Senator Sheila Kuehl. This bill expanded student safety protections in publicly funded schools and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

More needs to be done to protect young people from bullying. Late last year, I introduced the FAIR Education Act, which will ensure that instructional materials in our public schools include historical information about the LGBT movement and LGBT leaders. Studies show that the lack of information and discussion on these issues perpetuates negative stereotypes of LGBT people and leads to increased bullying of young people. The FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful) Education Act is co-sponsored by Equality California and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

Outside of legislative remedies, we must all help find ways to end bullying and harassment in our schools. We should all consider it our responsibility to reach out to the young people in our lives, and let them know that they matter to us and that they are supported and loved for who they are.
Activist and columnist Dan Savage makes it easy for anyone to get involved. He recently created an educational project called “It Gets Better,” which was designed to encourage LGBT young people through personal video messages of hope. I was proud to participate in this project, along with many people from all walks of life who have made inspiring messages to our young people in hopes that fewer will contemplate suicide as an answer to their struggles.

Our collective efforts will help our youth understand that they matter, that they are loved, and that they are not alone. Our collective efforts will also save lives.

Senator Mark Leno represents the Third Senate District of California, which includes portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties and all of Marin County. He can be reached via the Web at, by phone at 415-557-1300, or by e-mail at