This has been a year of remarkable legislative gains, but several bills that could be harmful to LGBT students have been introduced. Fortunately, the majority of the latter bills have been stymied.
Demonstrating a tremendous dedication to safe schools, Connecticut enacted
two laws this year which will have a dramatic impact on the state%92s students.
First, the Connecticut legislature added nondiscrimination protections based
on gender identity and expression to the state nondiscrimination law. This means
that, in addition to other protections, transgender students will have protection
against discrimination in schools. Connecticut had been one of the few states
that provided nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation
but not gender identity and expression.
Connecticut also passed a comprehensive anti-bullying bill, the thirteenth
such bill in the nation. The bill had originally lacked specific protections
for LGBT students, but strong testimony and advocacy efforts from GLSEN Connecticut
and others persuaded lawmakers to include these essential protections. This
legislation will address bullying and harassment through a comprehensive approach
which involves clear investigation guidelines, reporting, and professional development
for educators. Congratulations to the advocates who worked so hard to pass these
bills and to Connecticut for having a banner legislative year!
We are happy to report that Rhode Island has recently passed the nation%92s
fourteenth anti-bullying law with language that specifically protects LGBT students.
This is a momentous victory for students in Rhode Island, and we commend the
lawmakers who supported 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 critical difference for
Rhode Island students.
We tracked two important bills that were considered in Maine this year. The
first was a bill which would have weakened the state%92s 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. We are happy to
report that the bill was defeated by wide margins in both chambers with substantial
bipartisan support. It is often said that bills which affect bathroom usage
are the %93Achilles%92 heel%94 of transgender rights organizing,
and I think it is so important that advocates in Maine such as EqualityMaine,
the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and the Maine GLSEN Chapters were able to help
prove that maxim wrong.
Maine also considered a strong anti-bullying bill which would have created
comprehensive protections for all Maine students. The bill enjoyed strong bipartisan
support, but unfortunately an opposition group spread false information about
the bill that turned away many of the measure%92s Republican cosponsors.
The group claimed that this critical anti-bullying is %93ideological%94
and impedes First Amendment protections. In truth, the only thing ideological
was this group%92s opposition%97they would rather deny protections to
all Maine students than allow LGBT students to be protected from bullying and
harassment. In the end, after some acrimonious debate between supporters and
opponents, the bill was defeated. However, the bill was reassigned to committee,
and so we can and will push to have this anti-bullying measure passed next year.
District of Columbia:
The comprehensive anti-bullying legislation being considered in the District
is moving along swiftly, although not without minor complications. There was
an unusual mid-year reassignment of committees, and new staff will be working
to pass this measure. Still, we do not believe this will unduly delay this measure%97the
bill has a great deal of support from community members and lawmakers alike.
This bill is unique among anti-bullying bills in that it reaches to prevent
bullying and harassment beyond solely the school context. We believe that the
bill will be expanded to include all youth service agencies in the District.