This year's legislative session in most states is well underway. It's been an interesting few months as numerous bills affecting school safety, both positively and negatively, have been considered. As we move into summer, many state legislatures will close until next January. So what's happening now? Read on to find out!
-Alison Gill, Public Policy Associate
I'm very pleased to say that the "Don't Say Gay" bill was defeated again in the Tennessee House. The bill, which would prevent all discussion of or materials relating to any sexual orientation except heterosexuality in schools, was being pushed by Rep. Campfield before the Tennessee K-12 House Subcommittee. This bill had previously been defeated in February, and GLSEN contributed to this effort by urging our Tennessee constituents to call their representatives about the bill. These sorts of laws endanger LGBT students by denying them access to resources in schools. Congratulations to the Tennessee Equality Project
and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition
, whose hard work and local organizing helped to defeat this bill.
After some back and forth on the particulars of mandated training, reporting, and criminalization of bullying, both the Massachusetts House and Senate passed an anti-bullying bill. GLSEN was not supportive of this bill, largely because it lacks enumeration- a listing of the classes of students who are often subject to bullying. We feel that this is an essential element that allows anti-bullying legislation to protect all students. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the bill, meaning that Massachusetts will now join the roughly 40 other states with a non-enumerated anti-bullying law. Unfortunately, GLSEN's research
suggests that these generic anti-bullying laws provide little if any protection to LGBT students. We hope that as the legislation is implemented, the Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE) will take advantage of GLSEN's research on this issue and adopt a model school district policy that will protect all students.
Significant progress has been made on a comprehensive anti-bullying bill introduced this year in Illinois. The bill passed through the House with an overwhelming majority and is now begin being considered by the Senate. This bill has a lot of momentum and with the support of groups like The Alliance- Illinois Safe Schools
, we hope it will soon become law.
GLSEN and our NY chapters have been working with other national and New York State based organizations such as the NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), NY State United Teachers (NYSUT), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) and many others to support the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). This comprehensive anti-bullying bill has been around for about 9 years (and in fact, it's passed the Assembly multiple times), but due in part to the shift in control of the Senate, we are hoping the bill will make progress this year. In addition to the essential enumeration language, DASA offers strong training and curriculum components. I am excited about the building momentum behind this bill.
There were some surprising turns in Mississippi last month as the House version of the anti-bullying bill being considered saw enumerated language introduced at the last moment on the House floor. The bill passed; however, the enumerated language in question was not retained in the final version of the bill compiled by the conference committee. It is truly amazing progress to see these sorts of protections of LGBT students pass a chamber of the Mississippi Legislature. GLSEN worked with the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition
to pass this bill, and we commend them and all the other local advocates who worked so hard to see the best anti-bullying bill possible pass. The final version of the bill will next go to Governor Haley Barbour for signature.
Unfortunately, Arizona has seen several bills make progress this month that endanger LGBT students and families. For example, HB2148 gives priority in adoption to married couples, which unfortunately makes it more difficult for LGBT couples to adopt since their marriages are not recognized by the state. This bill has already passed through the House and is awaiting a Senate vote. Perhaps even more troubling is SB1309, the so-called "Parental Rights" bill, which among other provisions requires schools to notify parents and allow them to opt their children out of any class (except for sexual health education classes) that in any way discuss "sexuality." This creates extremely burdensome dilemmas for teachers and administrators and greatly imposes on the idea of free academic discussion in schools. After all, sexuality is a pretty broad topic. How are teachers supposed to know ahead of time when it will come up in class discussion in subjects like literature or biology? This bill just recently passed the House committee, so the House vote will be the last chance to derail this disturbing bill, which is really seeking to undermine public schools in the cause of "parental rights." GLSEN Phoenix is working with other health and student advocates in Arizona to see that the bill is defeated.
Always a step ahead, Washington just passed two new laws which will help protect the state's students. Although Washington already had an anti-bullying law and a non-discrimination law applicable to students, the new laws will both specifically ensure that LGBT students are protected from discrimination and also institute changes to make the anti-bullying laws more effective. We congratulate Equal Rights Washington
and other local advocates who supported this legislation to promote school safety in Washington.
The Georgia Safe Schools Coalition
and local supporters have built an incredible campaign advocating for changing Cobb County School District's anti-bullying policy to include enumerated language. They have made a strong case for the need for the specific protection of students often targeted for bullying, and they have garnered substantial media interest
. I was able to meet two of the primary activists, Maru Gonzales and Austin Laufersweiler, GLSEN's 2009 Student Advocate of the Year, at GLSEN's recent Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS). This Summit was an amazing event for both students and adults, consisting of several days of training on political advocacy, on federal bills such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4530), and on local organizing. I hope that some of the skills we sought to teach play a part in their ongoing success in Georgia.