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January 13, 2012

Panel drops LGBTs from Ohio bully bill

Columbus--Just a few weeks after Equality Ohio sent an email to members and supporters expressing optimism for the coming year, the Ohio Senate Education Committee put forward only two-thirds of the anti-bully bill introduced by Rep. Nickie Antonio in the state House of Representatives.

The bill, which passed the committee unanimously, requires that school districts provide comprehensive anti-bullying training and provisions to protect students against “cyber-bullying.”

But the part of the bill which enumerated categories upon which protections can be based--including sexual orientation and gender identity--was removed.

Equality Ohio pointed out in a press release after the January 10 vote that 18 percent of students in districts with policies that do not enumerate categories feel unsafe, compared to only 2 percent of students in districts with policies that include enumeration.

It also noted that students in states without enumeration in anti-bullying laws report the same levels of bullying as those in states without any bullying laws at all.

The three parts of the bill were introduced separately in the Ohio House of Representatives, so enumeration may still pass in that chamber and be accepted by the Senate.

“It’s been a long 48 hours, let’s just put it that way,” said Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio. “Our hope was that all three would be rolled into one, but enumeration was left out. It would have been easier and quicker had it been added as an amendment or a substitution bill to what was in the Senate.”

The bullying bill is not Equality Ohio’s only legislative priority this session. The LGBT Equal Housing and Employment Act has also been reintroduced, although its fate, like that of enumeration, is very much up in the air given the conservative domination of the legislature.

“We’ve always known it was going to be an uphill battle to get things passed,” Mullen noted, pointing out that the hearings provided usable data going forward.

“Now we know who is for it and who is not for it, and we know who to approach in a targeted way to change their vote,” he said. “I think there is definitely a chance of it going forward. I can’t say yet how optimistic I am that it will pass, it’s too early to tell.”

One major component to getting the bullying bill and EHEA passed may be Equality Ohio’s seventh annual Lobby Day, which will take place on May 16.

“I think we have a really good idea of what messages we need to put out there and what districts we need to target,” Mullen said. “I would encourage people to start thinking about coming down to Columbus on the sixteenth of May.”

There is also the possibility of three more out legislators joining Nickie Antonio in Columbus after this year’s election cycle. While Antonio is up for reelection this year, Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown will be running for Ohio House District 3, and has no primary opponent. He will simply have to campaign against his Democratic opponent in November.

Steve Newsome, the former political co-chair of Cincinnati’s HRC steering committee, will be running against incumbent Rep. Louis Terhar in House District 30. Joining them will be James Helmink in Lake County, who has a three-way primary on March 6.

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