State legislative sessions have opened around the country, and there are several innovative safe schools bills that have already been introduced. Despite a challenging legislative outlook in certain states, we remain optimistic about safe schools legislation in several crucial states.
District of Columbia - Washington D.C. remains one of the few jurisdictions in the country without any anti-bullying laws at all. Councilmember Thomas reintroduced his strong, enumerated anti-bullying bill from last session, and with 10 cosponsors (out of 13 councilmembers), we are hopeful that the legislation will pass quickly. GLSEN played an active role in organizing a powerful hearing on the bill last year - advocates, students, parents, and educators were able to share their own stories of bullying or harassment with the D.C. Council. This hearing not only demonstrated the strong support and need for such a bill, but also generated considerable local media and increased attention about the issue.
Minnesota - GLSEN is working with the Safe Schools for All Coalition and members such as OutFront Minnesota and the Family Equality Council, to pass enumerated anti-bullying legislation in Minnesota that is comprehensive and effective. This legislation passed in 2008, but was vetoed by then-governor Tim Pawlenty. Current law provides conflicting and confusing requirements regarding policies regarding "bullying and intimidation" and "harassment and violence." Consequently, districts often have trouble determining how to comply with the laws. Moreover, although it is cited by the state's anti-bullying law many school district policies do not reference the categories found in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. This legislation would clarify existing standards and help to make the enumeration requirement more explicit. The Coalition also hopes to work with the state's new education commissioner, to more effectively implement the already existing anti-bullying requirements for Minnesota school districts.
Texas - Rep. Jessica Farrar introduced legislation that would repeal the state's existing "No Promo Homo" provisions, which require that educators emphasize "in a factual manner and from a public health perspective that that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense." It is clear that such a policy fosters an unwelcome and unsafe school environment for LGBT students. Indeed, GLSEN's research has demonstrated that states with laws such as this which stigmatize LGBT students are less likely to have supportive resources for LGBT students and have a reduced rate of effective teacher intervention to prevent bullying and harassment. GLSEN will be working with our Texas Chapters and local partner organizations to supports Rep. Farrar's bill repealing the Texas No Promo Homo law.
Tennessee - Sen. Campfield, who three times introduced his "Don't Say Gay" bill when he served in the Tennessee House, has now introduced the bill yet again in the Senate. This bill would prevent all discussion of or materials relating to any sexual orientation except heterosexuality in schools. These sorts of laws endanger LGBT students by denying them access to resources in schools. In his most recent attempt to introduce the bill in the House, it was killed in committee, but this new introduction in the Senate begins the fight again. GLSEN and local groups such as the Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, who opposed the bill in previous years, will renew their opposition.
California - Rep. Mark Leno, supported by state organizations such as Equality California, recently introduced a bill to include LGBT people in the list of cultural and ethnic groups to be included in the state's education requirements. GLSEN's research finds that curricula with positive portrayals of LGBT people, history, and events create more positive school environments for LGBT students. For example, fewer LGBT students report feeling unsafe in schools with an inclusive curriculum. In these inclusive curriculum schools, students also report lower rates of absenteeism, higher rates of classmate acceptance, and a greater sense of connectedness to the school community. According to GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, only 13.4% of students are taught positive representations about LGBT people, history, or events in their schools. Rep. Leno's bill would help to ensure that all of California public education students would soon fall into that category.
Missouri - PROMO, Missouri's statewide LGBT equality group, has assembled a large coalition to support a state-wide, enumerated anti-bullying bill. Coalition members are gathering support and cosponsors for the legislation, which will soon be introduced. Right now Missouri is the only state in the country to forbid enumeration in individual school district policies. This law is not only a huge hurdle to overcome in the legislature, but it also leaves Missouri's students dangerously unprotected by ineffective anti-bullying policies. GLSEN supports the new anti-bullying legislation, and we are hopeful that these important student protections can be passed expediently.