Columbus--Upcoming Ohio anti-bullying legislation has drawn concerns even before its introduction that it does too little to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from harassment.
State Rep. Jimmy Stewart, an Athens Republican, plans to introduce a bill requiring school districts to create anti-bullying policies, but the measure would not specifically target anti-gay bullying.
Advocates for LGBT youth believe that is a major problem with any such legislation.
�That�s the gist of the problem,� said Doug Meredith, co-chair of the Cincinnati chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
GLSEN Cincinnati�s public relations chair Bryan Westbrook expounded on the matter.
�A little more than two weeks ago, GLSEN Cincinnati became aware of [Stewart�s bill],� he said. Through their network of educators and legislators, they discovered that the bill made no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity.
�Therefore, GLSEN Cincinnati began to take action,� he continued. �We have petitions circulating at almost every major university in Ohio and an email chain letter continuing to be forwarded from one person to another.�
The group changed tactics when they saw that last session�s version of Stewart�s bill did not name any groups that might be targeted by bullies.
�GLSEN Cincinnati wants Stewart to revise the bill to include categories which school boards must adopt in their anti-bullying policies,� Westbrook said.
They include age, ancestry, color, creed, marital status, mental or physical disability, national origin, race, religious affiliation, belief, or opinion, sex and sexual orientation and gender identity.
�These are some of the most basic forms which anyone can be discriminated against and these categories must be defined in the bill,� Westbrook added. �If not from hatred or discrimination but from forgetfulness or lack of knowledge, any of these categories could be easily forgotten.�
Other groups are joining Westbrook�s call to add LGBT students to the bill.
Tim Marshall, communications director of the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, urged, �Everyone must get involved and contact Rep. Stewart. This affects us all.�
�It�s important to show elected officials that we are part of a proactive movement to include LGBT people in legislation like this,� Marshall continued. �Whether you know LGBT youth in school or not, it�s our voices that will help make a difference--an improvement--in their lives.�
Kaleidoscope, a Columbus organization serving LGBT youth, issued a call for action on April 13, and executive director Angie Wellman is pleased with the reaction she has received.
Like GLSEN Cincinnati, her first thought was that the bill simply omitted sexual orientation and gender identity. In speaking with Stewart and his office, Kaleidoscope also discovered that the bill mentioned no groups.
�Apparently the legislation, at this point, does not mandate what populations the bullying policy should include,� Wellman noted.
�We all know what results when young people experience ongoing bullying,� she said. �It creates a cycle that starts with isolation. Isolation can turn into desperation. Desperation can often lead to kids becoming statistics.�
Stonewall Columbus is also urging its members to ask Stewart to change the bill.
�Stonewall, as well as other Safe Schools Coalition members, have been urging folks to write letters to representatives,� said Kellye Pinkleton, the director of programming. �This is one of the issues that hits close to home with the Safe Schools Coalition.�
According to the 2003 National School Climate Survey, a biennial report issued by GLSEN�s national office, 84 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, while almost 40 percent said that they were physically harassed. Almost half of LGBT youth of color reported harassment based both on their race and sexual orientation or gender identity.
Students who were harassed frequently had grade-point averages ten percent below students who were seldom harassed or not harassed at all, and a higher percentage of frequently-harassed students did not intend to go to college.
Youth whose schools did not have a policy against harassment and bullying were 40 percent more likely to skip school, as were students who simply did not know of their school�s policy. Almost as many students whose schools either did not have a policy or whose policies were not well-known had skipped class in the month prior to the survey being taken.
Wellman encourages people to contact Stewart directly to urge him to alter the bill before it is introduced. Stewart�s office can be reached at 614-4662158 or firstname.lastname@example.org. GLSEN Cincinnati can be reached at their web site to coordinate efforts, get petitions or to be put in touch with other local chapters, www.glsencincinnati.org.
Stewart�s office reported that requests for co-sponsors have yet to be sent out, meaning that the formal introduction of the bill is at least a month off.
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