February has been an exciting month for state safe schools legislation! While we were disappointed that a few of the bills being considered in various states were stripped of their enumerated protections, a groundswell of local organizing gives me hope that many states will recognize that ALL of their students need protection from bullying and harassment.
-Alison Gill, Public Policy Associate
A strong anti-bullying bill was introduced in New Hampshire this year by a dedicated lawmaker, Rep. Donna Schlachman. Unfortunately, however, a right-wing group conducted a last minute email and phone offensive against the members of the subcommittee considering the bill. Using specious arguments about extremist groups having access to schools, they were able to convince the subcommittee to remove the enumerated student protections from the bill. While Rep. Schlachman was able to negotiate a compromise by which the enumerated categories of students were added into the preamble of the bill, unfortunately these provisions may not have a direct effect on district level school policies.
Two Republican representatives have introduced a bill which would strip sexual orientation and gender identity from the enumerated protections in Iowa's anti-bullying law. In other words, they want to make LGBT students even more vulnerable to bullying. In their justification for this horrible bill, these lawmakers have made it clear that they're willing to sacrifice LGBT students in order to try to undermine marriage equality in Iowa. Fortunately for the students of Iowa, this hateful bill is very unlikely to make it past the committee, and local advocates such as Iowa Pride Network
are working to see that it is killed.
For quite some time the Massachusetts Joint Education Committee has been considering merging the many anti-bullying bills introduced last year into a single strong bill. Unfortunately, however, the anti-bullying bill that emerged from the committee last week lacks the strong, enumerated provisions so necessary to protect LGBT students. GLSEN's research clearly demonstrates that enumerated student protections are associated with higher rates of students feeling safe and teacher intervention. This bill is being fast-tracked, and Massachusetts is now likely to join the majority of states that have generic anti-bullying laws, which GLSEN's research demonstrates are little better than not having an anti-bullying law at all. We will work with local advocates to persuade the Massachusetts Dept. of Education to adopt a model policy that incorporates crucial protections for LGBT students.
The Center for Artistic Revolution
and other local Arkansas advocates and allies are organizing a new coalition to both advocate for safe schools legislation and to provide anti-bullying training to teachers and schools. By energizing advocates and building a broad safe schools movement in Arkansas, this coalition will create a strong base to fight for safer schools for all the students of Arkansas.
A new comprehensive anti-bullying bill that offers strong enumerated protections for LGBT students has been introduced in the Illinois
Senate. The Alliance- Illinois Safe Schools
and other local advocates are supporting this bill by educating lawmakers about the bill's importance, telling stories of bullying and harassment at the hearing for the bill this week, and organizing a coalition of broad support behind the bill. With this level of support and momentum, we are very hopeful that safe schools will soon be a reality for all Illinois students.
While it is disappointing that the anti-bullying bill being considered in the Georgia House lacks enumerated protections for LGBT students, there is excellent organizing work being done at the local level which I'd like to highlight. Austin Laufersweiler, GLSEN's Student Advocate of the Year for 2009, and other local activists are organizing a broad coalition focusing on adding enumerated protections to the Cobb County School District's anti-bullying policy. When (not if!) they are successful, we hope that other school districts in Georgia will use this policy as a model in order protect their students from bullying and harassment.
Hearings for two important non-discrimination bills are being held this week in Maryland. HB462 would make it clear that public school teachers are currently protected under Maryland law from discrimination, including discrimination which is based on sexual orientation. Similarly, SB583 is a comprehensive non-discrimination bill which adds gender identity to the categories already protected under Maryland law, including discrimination in employment such as for teachers. Equality Maryland
is providing strong support for these crucial bills, and they are organizing speakers and attendees for the hearings this week.