"How about kids with pimples, kids who are fat, kids who are into computers, why don't we include them?" asked the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition, which is airing radio ads against Kuehl's bill. "Right now there are more laws than we need to prevent any kind of harassment."
Gay Insults Learned Early
These days, children learn the potency of gay insults in the earliest grades.
"I'm not sure the kids really understand what they're saying in most cases, but they know the word has negative connotations and they use it as a put-down," said California Teachers Assn. Gay and Lesbian Caucus Co-Chairman Eric Heins, a Bay Area elementary school teacher who often hears students call each other gay or use gay slurs.
The targets of the abuse learn early too, even before they have a sexual identity.
They describe the sick feeling that comes before recess, seeking refuge from the playground in the nurse's office, asking to go to the restroom minutes before school ends to get a running start from bullies, constantly strategizing, changing patterns and routes between home and school, between one class and the next.
To understand what it's like to suffer such harassment, says 16-year-old Christina Smith of Monterey Park, try this: "Get a knife, stick it in your stomach. Twist it."
Since Smith, who has lobbied for Kuehl's bill in Sacramento, "came out" two years ago, she says there have been threats on her life.
Last October, she transferred to a continuation school.
Jesse Torres' memories of elementary school consist of being pushed on the floor, socked and called names.
It didn't get any better in high school in Ontario.
"People didn't want to change in front of me in the locker room, and when I was changing they would push me over and they would laugh and walk by and step on me, pretending it was an accident," said Torres, 21, who quit school in the 10th grade because of harassment.
He has worked odd jobs since dropping out of school: Taco Bell, Starbucks. He now works at a clothing store and as a cocktail waiter. He plans to get his graduate equivalency degree and go to college.
"I was weak when I dropped out. I regret that," he said. "I wish I would have stuck it out and fought. I admire the gays and the lesbians who have gone through what I have gone through and stuck it out and graduated. I admire them. I envy them."