STATE LEGISLATURE MAY SOON PASS ANTI BULLYING LAW--BUT ARE GAY STUDENTS PROTECTED?-Andrew Stelzer

04/20/06

The state legislature is coming closer to passing an anti-bullying law for schools throughout the state, but many gay and lesbian advocates say there hasn’t been enough done to specifically protect one of the most frequently bullied populations—students who are targeted because of their sexual orientation. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer reports.

Graham Frye is the community coordinator at also out youth in Sarasota, a group that promotes the health safety and personal growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning youth. He says that when he used to answer the groups emergency hotline, he would get several calls every week from young people who were being harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation.

ACT-Frye “You get pushed, punched, spit on, people have had their backpacks peed on, horrible things written on lockers…its often worse when ..�

Frye says that often the worst harassment is of students who aren’t even gay, but are perceived to be by their classmates. Its for that reason that many advocacy groups have been lobbying the state legislature for years for a law that would protect students from being harassed because of sexual orientation. There was never much significant movement until this year. Brian Winfield is with Equality Florida, they’ve been taking students who have been bullied to Tallahassee for years to ask for legislation, and Winfield says he believes it’s a sign of progress that it finally appears to be happening.

ACT-Winfield “There’s good news and bad news,

ACT-Winfield ‘Having in the past resisted, law makers have had to state this is intended to protect gay students..Thats important down the road�

The Florida house has already passed legislation which would require school districts to enact and enforce anti bullying policies. The State Senate education committee passed similar anti bullying legislation earlier this week, State Senator Ron Klien had tried to add an amendment to the bill which would have allowed school districts to focus protection on groups such as gays a lesbians, but that motion was defeated. Winfield says although he’s disappointed that the motion failed, the discussion it prompted may end up accomplishing much of what’s is needed legally.

ACT-Winfield “If this bill passes and they are not protecting gay students, we can tell them its illegal, and while it would have been better, its valuable to have as part of legislative history..�

Senator Klien has also expressed concern that some school district which already have bullying regulations which are stronger than the propose state law, may find their restrictions weakened by the new law if its passed. The authors of the house and senate bills, both republicans, did not return WMNFs calls for comment. In published reports, they have said it could actually damage the effectiveness of the law to specify certain populations, because then others may be left out, but Winfield doesn’t buy that excuse.

ACT-Winfield “while it makes for a wonderful talking point to say all means all, we know that the strongest policies have specific behavior…�

Frye, not speaking for his organization but for himself as a 2002 graduate of Sarasota Booker High School, says special protections should be in place.

ACT-Frye “teachers don’t always intervene, if someone says faggot its ignored, but if someone says the n word…’

ACT-Frye “The problem is that teachers don’t know what to do .and if they don’t know what to do they don’t do anything�

10 states already have policies which have specify specific types of behavior, and list some of the groups which are protected.

ACT-Winfield ‘We know a teachers particular bias comes into play, and if their is .a policy, it will protect them.�

Frye also says the problem hasn’t gotten any better over the past decade, and he believes our state and national leaders are setting some unfortunate agendas.

ACT-Frye “A lot of it stems from society, president doesn’t want us to marry, governor doesn’t want this to adopt, so when one kid is…�

There will be a hearing on the anti bullying legislation in the state senate on Tuesday. To learn more about it, log onto www.eqfl.org

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