Columbus--An Ohio legislator has introduced a bill to address school bullying that does not include sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other specific groups as possible victims.
Rep. Jimmy Stewart, a Republican from Athens, introduced the bill May 24 following efforts from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups to convince him to specifically include GLBT students.
Stewart said his office got calls and emails from people �with homosexual type issues� with the bill.
He initially said the groups misunderstood the bill.
�They were thinking we were excluding people on the basis of sexual orientation, that the bullying bill was not giving attention to them,� said Stewart.
�If you get specific, there�s always a possibility of leaving a group out,� said Stewart. �If I list 10 or 100 [groups], someone will find one you didn�t think of.�
Stewart�s House Bill 276 is co-sponsored by eight representatives, both Democrats and Republicans. At press time, it has not been assigned a committee.
The measure requires school systems to adopt anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, and requires the state auditor to report on the policy and on incidents of violations as part of the annual reports of the school systems. It does not specify what those policies cover.
The bill also requires the state board of education to include harassment and bullying in its annual school system report cards.
Currently, school systems in Ohio have no requirement of such policies, and there is no reporting requirement.
Eight states and the District of Columbia now have statewide legal protections for students based on sexual orientation. Of these, California, Minnesota and New Jersey also include gender identity. Nine more states have anti-bullying laws that name no groups, according to a survey last year by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Anti-bullying proposals in other states have sometimes been opposed as �promoting� homosexuality by protecting gay students.
GLSEN gave Ohio an F in last year�s survey, putting it 39th of the 50 states in its protection of LGBT students. This was largely for its lack of statewide policy directives to school systems.
But the group says that if sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically mentioned in these policies, LGBT kids are not protected.
GLSEN director of public policy Neil Bomberg said at the time of the study�s release, that anti-harassment laws that do not specify the classes of students for protection are �significantly weaker� than those that do.
�Classless laws don�t give administrators authority or legal basis to enforce anti-harassment policies with regard to LGBT students,� said Bomberg, adding that LGBT-inclusive laws �help school administrators deflect local criticism over protecting LGBT students.�
�If the laws are too vague, said Bomberg, �administrators will respond to local community opinion.�
GLSEN and other LGBT groups including the Cleveland Lesbian and Gay Center, and the Buckeye Regional Anti- Violence Organization, Stonewall Columbus, and the Safe Schools Coalition learned of Stewart�s intention to introduce the bill and began echoing Bomberg�s sentiments in calls to him.
Stewart said, �Every school in the nation knows that harassment based on race is unacceptable, no question about it.�
Then he conceded that many schools in Ohio wouldn�t necessarily recognize LGBT harassment or feel the need to do anything about it.
�I want to include eveyone,� said Stewart, adding that he would not be opposed to adding categories, including sexual orientation �if it will pass.�
�[Bomberg�s statements] are a valid concern,� said Stewart, �but I can�t speak for what other members would vote for.�
A separate report issued by GLSEN in 2003 found that 84 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school, with 40 percent saying they were also physically harassed. Nearly half of LGBT youth of color reported being harassed based on both race and sexual orientation or gender identity.
Stewart also introduced an anti-bullying bill at the very end of the session last year and with no co-sponsors.
�That was only to educate members that Ohio has no such law,� said Stewart.
In the Senate, Youngstown Democrat Marc Dann also had a bullying bill last year. It did not specify groups to be included.
Stewart said he has had no conversation with Dann or any other senator to carry his bill in the senate.
The current bill is co-sponsored by Republicans Jon Peterson of Delaware, Mary Taylor of Uniontown and Clyde Evans of Rio Grande; and Democrats Dale Miller of Cleveland, Kenneth Carano of Austintown, Bill Hartnett of Mansfield, Jeanine Perry of Toledo and Dixie Allen of Dayton.
Stewart said he welcomes LGBT people to testify on the bill. He hopes that testimony will begin in June.
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