Columbus--Lawmakers declined to vote on a bill against bullying in Ohio�s schools after hearing testimony on October 11.
The hearing on H.B. 276, introduced by Rep. Jimmy Stewart of Athens, was held before the Ohio House�s Education Committee on National Coming Out Day.
The bill lists no groups of potential victims of bullying, and LGBT advocates stressed the need for those groups to be enumerated. A representative of the Ohio School Boards Association listed other problems with the wording of the bill.
�It was presented to the committee that there were some problems with the current wording of the bill,� said Fred Pausch, director of legislative services for the association.
As an example, he noted, �Harming a student, well, what is that? Is it physical, is it verbal, is it emotional, is it all of these?�
David Brewer, whose teenaged son killed himself in 2004, urged lawmakers to pass the bully bill. He believes that it could have saved his son�s life.
Members of two chapters of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network spoke to the committee: Mika Major of GLSEN Northeast Ohio and Rebecca Bernstein of GLSEN Cincinnati, who also belongs to the Log Cabin Republicans of Greater Cincinnati and Cincinnati PFLAG.
Major, who is also the youth program coordinator for the Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center, took a different tack from Brewer. She listed situations where students who were gay-baited turned on their tormentors, with tragic results.
�Littleton, Colorado. Pearl, Mississippi. Paducah, Kentucky. Springfield, Oregon. Jonesboro, Arkansas. Red Lake, Minnesota. Moses Lake, Washington. Santee, California,� she read. �The shooters, white males in middle class schools, described their school days as a relentless gauntlet of bullying, gay-baiting epithets, physical assault and harassment until they �snapped.� �
�Evan Todd of Colorado told us this, unashamedly, that he and �the whole school� baited those boys,� she said of the tragedy at Columbine High School. �If you want to get rid of someone, you call them homos.�
�I got really insightful questions from members of the committee,� Mika said afterwards. �I think it�s obvious that they would rather not have to have this bill, that they would rather people do the right thing. But it was also clear after this testimony that unless there�s a state mandate for this policy, and a state mandate for specifics in this policy, that it was never going to happen like they want it to.�
Written testimony from Karen Pointer favored passage of the bill, but opposed adding sexual orientation to it.
Eric Resnick, a former substitute teacher in the Canton school district (and staff reporter for the Gay People�s Chronicle) pointed to a statement on the Bully Police USA website, arguing that the organization�s leader was underestimating legislators.
�Defining victims will slow the process of lawmaking, dividing political parties who will argue over which victims get special rights over other victims,� the guidelines on the website say.
�This woman is essentially prejudging them and assuming they�re not going to have the courage to do the right thing, and I told them that I thought they did have the courage to do the right thing,� Resnick said.
He also told lawmakers about a �culture of disdain� towards LGBT people in this state, made evident by the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act and last year�s Issue 1. He pointed to headlines in which Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell compared LGBT people to barnyard animals, plans by the state health department to bring in a noted anti-gay speaker for a conference and gay-baiting in state legislative races as further evidence of this �culture of disdain.�
While she wasn�t named specifically, committee member Rep. Jennifer Garrison of Marietta, a Democrat, was the target of some barbs from Resnick.
Garriaon defeated incumbent Nancy Hollister, the only Republican in the Ohio House to vote against DOMA, after a bitter campaign in which Garrison sent out literature saying, �If you think marriage is between one man and one woman, there�s something you should know about Nancy Hollister.
�I talked about a member of the committee who had gay-baited an opponent in order to win the election, and talked about how her caucus has held them up as an example of a rising star instead of shunning her as they would have if she had race-baited or ethnicity-baited her opponent,� Resnick said. �What do you expect of your schools when this is out there?�
A new GLSEN report, �From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America� was discussed as well, and used as an indicator of the prevalence of anti-gay harassment and bullying in schools.
While the bill was scheduled for a committee vote that day, lawmakers postponed that, expressing a desire to do some more work on the bill.
�One important thing is that they didn�t vote on it. They were scheduled to, but they decided not to, at what point I don�t know,� Resnick said.
�I was more than pleased when at the end of the hearing they said they were going to take the bill back and work on it some more,� Major noted. �I�ve already been in touch with Jimmy Stewart�s office to offer any further assistance they might need.�
�We�re going to talk to legislators to ensure that the enumeration portion of the bill is advocated for,� she concluded.
September 23, 2005:� Panel considers anti-bully bill that names no groups
June 24, 2005:� Democrats say they will try to add gays to Ohio bullying bill
June 10, 2005: �Including gays would hinder bully bill, its backers say
May 27, 2005:� Anti-bullying bill names no groups as possible victims
April 29, 2005:� Advocates want Ohio anti-bullying bill to name victim groups
January 3, 2003:� West Virginia removes lesbians and gays from anti-bullying program
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