Across the country, a number of state legislatures are getting ready to close,
while others are rapidly shuffling through a number of bills before the end of
the legislative season. Overall, this year has seen remarkable gains for LGBT
students, considering the threatening atmosphere at the beginning of the session.
Tennessee- Earlier this year, we reported about the notorious
“Don’t Say Gay” bill which would prevent all discussion of
or materials relating to any sexual orientation (except heterosexuality) in
schools. These sorts of laws endanger LGBT students by stigmatizing them and
denying them access to resources in schools. GLSEN has opposed this bill in
conjunction with partners such as the Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee
Transgender Political Coalition. Fortunately, it looks like the “Don’t
Say Gay” bill cannot pass this year. The committee in the House where
the bill would be considered has already closed. While there is some possibility
the bill will pass in the Senate, the legislative session in Tennessee is rapidly
drawing to a close, and we’re happy to report this terrible measure will
not be inflicted on the students of Tennessee.
Unfortunately, however, the Tennessee legislature seems intent on passing a
bill which would prevent local jurisdictions from having more expansive nondiscrimination
protections than provided for in state law, effectively negating any current
local nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people (such as in Nashville) and
preventing future ones from being passed. Unfortunately, this is likely to both
harm LGBT students and damage commerce in the state. We remain hopeful that
Governor Haslam will veto this terrible measure, and if not, that legal challenges
will strike it down.
New Hampshire- We are very happy to report that efforts to
strip vital protections from the anti-bullying law passed in New Hampshire last
year have been defeated. Several representatives had tried to undermine the
anti-bullying law and endanger New Hampshire students by removing enumerated
language from the law’s purpose section, severely narrowing the number
of situations where schools can take action on cyberbullying, and eliminating
the waiver based on student safety to the law’s parental notification
requirements. The Senate voted unanimously to kill this bill. We congratulate
GLSEN New Hampshire, Bully Free New Hampshire, and of course parents, students
and other local advocates who worked so hard to defeat this harmful measure.
Connecticut- The Connecticut Joint Education Committee originally
drafted anti-bullying bill SB 1138 without including any specific protections
for those students who are frequently the target of bullying and harassment,
such as LGBT students. However, after hearing from numerous parents, students,
community advocates, and the GLSEN Connecticut Chapter about the important of
such protections, they amended the bill. Now the bill is progressing rapidly
through a number of committees, and we hope that Senate leadership will bring
it to the floor soon for a vote. SB 1138 is a very strong bill that will build
upon existing anti-bullying laws in Connecticut to provide essential training
for educators, specific protection for LGBT students, and clear reporting provisions
that will help the state to assess and address the issue of bullying and harassment.
Maine- The Maine legislature is considering a bill which would
weaken the state’s Human Rights law by creating exceptions to its protections
for transgender people. Currently the Maine Human Rights Law provides nondiscrimination
protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
However, some lawmakers would like to carve holes in the law by refusing to
allow transgender people to access public facilities that coincide with the
way they live their lives. Unfortunately, this would also impact transgender
students in Maine, who are already the subject of extremely high levels of bullying,
harassment, and discrimination. Of course this measure is completely unnecessary;
the laws protecting transgender Mainers have been in place for five years without
incident. Wisely, the Joint Judiciary Committee recommended that this bill should
not pass. However, the bill will still go to the floor in both chambers. A coalition
of organizations in Maine is fighting against this terrible bill, including
the Maine Civil Liberties Union, EqualityMaine, our Maine GLSEN Chapters, and
several other groups. We are hopeful that they will defeat this effort and restore
the promise of equality in Maine.
Colorado- We are happy to report that Colorado has recently
passed the nation’s twelfth anti-bullying law with language that specifically
protects LGBT students. This is a momentous victory for advocates in Colorado,
and we applaud the efforts of One Colorado to pass this bill. Research has continually
shown that laws with this specific enumeration of characteristics are simply
more effective-- they result in a greater feeling of student safety, less absenteeism,
greater reporting of incidents of bullying when they occur, and increased intervention
by teachers. We believe that this new law will make a difference for Colorado
students, and we are happy that we were able to support this effort though our
GLSEN Colorado Chapter and resources such as our state specific research on
District of Columbia- At the end of the last legislative session,
the District of Columbia held a hearing on a comprehensive anti-bullying bill.
Although that effort did not pass, the bill has been reintroduced and once again
has gathered a great deal of momentum. Working with a variety of community advocates
and organizations, we have strongly supported efforts to pass this bill. A “Bully
Free DC” rally was held last month to raise public awareness about this
measure, which has the public support of the DC Council as well as Mayor Gray.
We are working with experts to strengthen the language of this bill, and then
we hope to see it passed this session.
Louisiana- The enumerated anti-bullying in Louisiana achieved
a significant milestone last week when it passed the House Education Committee.
The bill has a tough vote ahead in the House, and local advocates are working
hard to gather support for the measure. GLSEN continues to support this effort
by providing advocacy resources.