Thirteen years ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted an ordinance designed to make city services more accessible to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Under Chapter 12N of the San Francisco Administrative Code, city departments must provide LGBT sensitivity training "to any employee or volunteer who has direct contact with youth." It also applies to any collaborative youth service providers who receive $50,000 or more in city funding.
Fueled with great intentions, 12N is the letter of the law in a city known for its tolerance and forward-thinking, progressive values. "San Francisco is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ youth receive the same level of dignity and respect as granted to all residents when encountering city services and programs," a statement on the Human Rights Commission website reads.
There's only one problem. With the exception of one department, 12N has never actually been implemented.
Last week, Paul Monge-Rodriguez, a 23-year-old appointee to the San Francisco Youth Commission, approached the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club to point out that 12N has never been put into practice.
"To this day, there's only one city department in compliance, and that's the Department of Public Health," Monge-Rodriguez explained in an interview with the Guardian. Other major service providers include the Human Services Agency, the Department of Children Youth & their Families, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
An effort to push implementation, led by the Youth Commission, the Human Rights Commission and LYRIC — a nonprofit organization addressing issues facing LGBT youth — is gaining traction. Sup. John Avalos called for a hearing; following Monge-Rodriguez's presentation, the Milk Club voted to formally support the effort.
"We pass these laws, but then when it comes to putting it in action, we don't always live up to the legislation," Avalos told the Guardian. "Basically, the city hasn't implemented the program in terms of providing training for city staff."
Jodi Schwartz, executive director of LYRIC, argues that 12N implementation should involve collection of sexual orientation and transgender identity data so as to better inform agencies about the populations they serve. The San Francisco Unified School District is the only district nationwide that collects sexual orientation and gender identity data when studying risk behavior for middle and high school students — and the results of a 2011 SFUSD anonymous survey revealed an alarming number of suicide attempts reported among queer youth.
According to SFUSD's suicide indicators analysis, more than a third of high school students and nearly half of middle school students who self-identified as transgender reported having attempted suicide at some point; meanwhile, about a third of middle school students and about 17 percent of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual also reported having attempted suicide.
The data is based on extrapolations and assumes no overlap between transgender and LGB populations, and concrete data in this realm is generally difficult to obtain. But based on the SFUSD data, LYRIC estimated that more than 1,000 LGBT students in middle and high school had reported attempting suicide. It's a disturbing figure to say the least. If other agencies begin collecting such data, Schwartz argues, "they'll use it to inform their priorities as an institution."
Youth Commissioner Mia Tu Mutch, 22, helped create a training video that was shown to city staff at the Department of Public Health as part of a pilot program to initiate the sensitivity training mandated under 12N.
"Some of the stories talked about trans people feeling unsafe or unwelcome by service providers," she explained when asked about the video, which was not made publicly available. "One featured a gender-queer young person who felt more comfortable using gender-neutral terms, but the intake person went out of their way to use the wrong pronoun."
Tu Mutch worked with LYRIC to create a Tumblr site, entitled 12N Now or Never, featuring photographs of queer youth holding up signs asking for immediate 12N implementation. Her own sign reads, "I need 12N because youth shouldn't have to educate adults." Another message, posted by a young person named Vincent, reads, "I need 12N because I don't want my kids to be judged like I was."
"I think it just speaks to the bureaucratic process," David Miree, spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission, responded when asked about the long delay. "The great intentions were there to put it into an ordinance. But what had to happen was, there had to be someone, or some community, or some agency" to step in and make it happen.
Schwartz takes a different view on why so little has been done. "There's a lack of political will," she says, "to invest the resources to do the transformation that's necessary."