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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 24, 2005

Democrats say they will try to add gays to Ohio bullying bill

Willoughby, Ohio--House Democrats will try to amend the anti-bullying bill currently in the legislature to enumerate classes of victims, including sexual orientation and gender identity, according to their leader, State Rep. Chris Redfern.

Redfern, of Catawba Island Township, addressed 44 Democratic activists June 9 at a suburban Cleveland public library. The event was one of the stops on a Fighting for Ohio�s Families Tour organized by the House Democratic caucus.

He was joined by State Reps. Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights, Tim DeGeeter of Parma, John Boccieri of New Middletown, Lorraine Fende of Willowick, Timothy Cassell of Madison and Brian Williams of Akron.

Redfern offered no specifics as to what amendments will be offered, and did not return calls for clarification.

However, Williams, the former Akron Public Schools superintendent and member of the House Education Committee where the bill is being heard, said he would push for the change in the committee.

�That�s where you get into the definition of the problem,� said Williams, noting the need for groups of victims to be enumerated.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Jimmy Stewart of Athens, House Bill 276, requires school systems to adopt anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies and requires the state auditor to report on incidents of violations as part of the annual reports of the school systems. It does not specify what those policies cover.

Stewart�s office and those who convinced him to introduce it say they are not opposed to specifying protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, but they are afraid that doing so will doom the bill�s passage.

�I know [Stewart] would definitely entertain the discussion of defining groups or victims, but not at the cost of holding up passage of the bill,� said Stewart�s aide Courtney Saunders.

Those who advocate for safe schools for LGBT students say that omitting victim classes renders the bill toothless.

Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, says specific policies give teachers and administrators the ability to protect students, even when the community dislikes that group.

According to GLSEN, students who are GLBT and those who are overweight report being harassed and bullied more than any other groups, and often on a daily basis.

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

Majority Republicans always table amendments offered by Democrats, regardless of their merit, so it is not clear how Redfern expects to advance this one or how Democrats would vote on it.

When asked what House Democrats would do for Ohio�s LGBT families, Redfern defended his caucus� voting record. Thirteen Democrats voted for the �defense of marriage act� last year.

�I am not going to question the motives of any of my members on any votes,� said Redfern.

Calling the Democratic Party a �big tent party,� Redfern said that 13 of the 39 Democrats consider themselves to be �pro-life,� and half favor the death penalty.

�First and foremost, they have to represent their constituency,� said Redfern.

During sponsor testimony on the anti-bullying bill June 8, Stewart did not address the victim groups issue, but said �Every day, 160,000 children miss school because they are afraid of being attacked or intimidated by other students.�

�While we�re aware that bullying and harassment creates an unsafe and poor learning environment for both students and educators, we must also realize that it interferes with student achievement and can eventually lead to more serious and violent behavior,� said Stewart.

�Bullying has proven to cause long-lasting negative effects later in life such as depression, poor self-esteem, and even a stronger likelihood of committing at least one crime in a person�s lifetime,� said Stewart.

In addition to Williams, education committee Democrats are Kenneth Carano of Austintown, Dixie Allen of Dayton, Catherine Barrett of Cincinnati, Kathleen Chandler of Kent, George Distel of Conneaut, Jennifer Garrison of Marrieta, and Claudette Woodard of Cleveland Heights.

Republicans are committee chair Arlene Setzer of Vandalia, Diana Fessler of New Carlisle, Clyde Evans of Rio Grande, Ron Hood of Ashville, James Hoops of Napoleon, Scott Oelslager of Canton, Jon Peterson of Delaware, Linda Reidelbach of Columbus, Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, John Schlichter of Washington Court House, Derrick Seaver of Minster, Mary Taylor of Uniontown, Jeff Wagner of Sycamore, and Shawn Webster of Hamilton.


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