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May 6, 2011

Bill would add LGBT students to Ohio anti-bullying law

Columbus--Lakewood’s State Rep. Nickie Antonio, the first openly gay legislator in Ohio, has introduced a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-bullying legislation, along with other categories.

Antonio and Michael Stinziano, a fellow Democrat representing part of Columbus, introduced House Bill 208 on April 18.

Antonio is also cosponsoring H.B. 155, which changes the existing anti-bullying law to add electronic bullying through phones, computers and other devices, as well as requiring school districts to annually review their policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying.

It would also expand policies to cover school buses and off-campus harassment, if it negatively affects the “educational environment,” among other changes.

The LGBT bill was introduced on March 15, and is now in the Education Committee. The electronic one has not yet been assigned to a committee for review.

Ohio’s present anti-bullying law does not name any groups that would be targeted by such harassment. LGBT advocates testified when that law was passed in 2006 that failure to name victim groups rendered the measure toothless, since it includes no one specifically. They also pointed out that the groups had been omitted to avoid including sexual orientation and gender identity.

On April 25, Antonio sent out a message to her supporters and constituents.

“I am proud to report that we introduced important anti-bullying legislation this past week,” she wrote. “We must work to make our schools safe zones for all of our children!”

Stinzano echoed Antonio’s sentiments. “Every child, regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or gender, deserves the opportunity to receive a quality education in a safe environment.”

“Recent tragic events have raised awareness to an issue that has gone on unaddressed in our schools for years,” he continued. “This legislation builds upon the belief that differences between us, our background, heritage, and opinions are what make our community great.”

At the end of March, Antonio also introduced H.B. 182 with State Rep. Mike Foley, another Cleveland-area Democrat. This measure would authorize needle exchange programs. It would allow local health boards to establish programs after consulting with law enforcement, substance abuse treatment providers and other concerned groups.

The bill makes repeated mention of “reducing the transmission of blood-borne diseases.” Needle exchange programs, while often controversial, are considered a prime tool for preventing the spread of HIV among injection drug users.

The bill is now before the Health and Aging Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives.

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