The California legislature passed gay-rights legislation in the closing hours of its 1999 session, including a bill that would prohibit discrimination against gay students and teachers.
Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, who is lesbian, said the legislation is necessary to curb violence aimed at gay teenagers as well as teenagers who are picked on because others think they are gay.
"There are thousands of students in this state who are suffering every day from harassment in school . . . because they are different or people think they are gay or lesbian," Kuehl said.
Another bill passed Friday would create a state domestic partners registry for gay couples and let state and local government workers obtain health benefits for their partners.
A third bill would move state laws prohibiting discrimination against gays in employment and housing into the state's main civil rights law.
California Gov. Gray Davis (D) plans to sign the domestic registry bill, but he has not declared a position on the others, spokeswoman Hilary McLean said.
Kuehl's bill would add sexual orientation to a state education law that already bars discrimination in public schools and colleges based on race, ethnicity, gender or disability.
The bill does not prescribe a punishment, but by adding sexual orientation to state law, it makes it easier for parents or students to sue harassers or schools where harassment occurs.
Massachusetts has a similar law, and Kuehl said about half of California's public school districts have similar policies.
A federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control study of more than 8,000 high school students found one in 13 were targets of violence because other students thought they were homosexual, Kuehl said.
"When society allows harassment and discrimination to go unchecked in our educational institutions, we create a climate in which incidents of hate violence can flourish," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based group supporting the bill.
Opponents said the bill would force schools to advocate a homosexual lifestyle.
"Moms and dads don't send their children to school to learn from homosexual role models," said Randy Thomasson of Capitol Resource Institute, a conservative religious-oriented group opposing the bill.