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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 10, 2005

Including gays would hinder bully bill, its backers say

Columbus--Ohio�s anti-bullying bill doesn�t have wording specifically protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students out of fear it would keep the measure from passing, says its backers.

�I know he would definitely entertain the discussion of defining groups or victims, but not at the cost of holding up passage of the bill,� said Courtney Saunders. She is legislative aide to State Rep. Jimmy Stewart, a Republican from Athens.

Stewart�s measure, House Bill 276, requires school systems to adopt anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, and requires the state auditor to report on violations in each district�s annual report.

But it does not specify what each district�s policy is to contain.

It also requires the state board of education to develop a model policy, but does not say what that should include, either.

Currently, school systems in Ohio have no requirement of such policies and there is no reporting requirement.

The philosophical backing for the bill comes from Bully Police USA, a self-described watchdog organization advocating for bullied children.

The group was founded by Brenda High after her son Jared, a bullied child, became depressed and committed suicide at age 13.

The organization�s Ohio director, Misty Cole of Nelsonville, near Athens, brought the idea to Stewart.

High says that when creating bullying bills, �there should be no major emphasis on defining victims� because �this addition into an anti-bullying law will cause several problems for lawmakers.� She says they will �slow the process of lawmaking, dividing political parties who will argue which victims get special rights over other victims.�

�The determining factor for us is [that] point,� said Saunders.

High�s web sites, and, reveal that she is a Mormon and a graduate of Brigham Young University. The sites contain scripture quotations and buzz phrases like �special rights,� usually used by groups trying to take rights away from LGBT people.

The Mormon church is extremely anti-gay. It has spent millions of dollars on initiatives to ban same-sex marriage and has opposed other pro-gay measures. It is a major backer of the Boy Scouts, which has won a Supreme Court case allowing it to ban gay members.

�I have to admit that my morality influences all that I do,� said High. �But I have a gay cousin and I don�t believe people should be hurt because they are gay.�

�I would not oppose a bill if it named classes,� said High, �but why have the controversy when you don�t need the controversy? There will be a better chance of passing without the fight.�

Others say that omitting victim classes renders the bully bill toothless.

Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network said, �We all agree that all children should be protected and safe, but in today�s climate, any mention of sexual orientation is politically volatile, and teachers and administrators concerned about their job security will turn away from dealing with it unless there is sound direction.�

Byard says specific policies give teachers and administrators the ability to protect students, even when the community dislikes that group.

�LGBT students report that even when a teacher is present, often nothing is done to stop the bullying,� said Byard.

�Emphasis on enumerating the groups is about understanding the problem,� said Byard.

Byard also said that if groups are not named, it is impossible to track and study the different kinds of bullying going on.

�The problem with bills that are not specific is there are no tools to get to intractible elements of the problem,� said Byard.

�I have empathy for that [position],� said High, �but what makes it fair for kids who are being bullied because they are white, or Christian?�

Both groups would be included in �race� and �religion,� which are standard wording in most lists of protected groups.

�I was really ignorant as to the controversy around this until last week,� said Cole. �There are people who do not have the backbone to stop anti-gay bullying. I agree.�

�But I am absolutely 125 million percent sure of this bill protecting every single child,� said Cole.

Both High and Cole said they would support a bill that enumerated the victims, and Byard said any bill would be progress.

The Central Ohio Stonewall Democrats approached Rep. Dan Stewart, a Columbus Democrat, to ask him to improve the bill. This could be done by amending it or by introducing a new one listing victim groups, including sexual orientation.

Since amendments offered by Democrats are always tabled by majority Republicans, they opted for a new bill.

But according to vice president for political strategies Don Greiner, the three Columbus LGBT groups they were working with didn�t provide the information they needed to prepare it, so nothing was done.

Greiner said someone might testify on the current bill, but no new bill will be introduced.

Rep. Jimmy Stewart gave sponsor testimony to the House Education Committee June 7. No further action on the bill is yet scheduled.



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