Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Bill Fails to Adequately Protect LGBT Students

The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 2313, An Act Relative to School Bullying, which brings much-needed attention to the crisis of bullying and harassment in commonwealth schools. However, the bill falls short as it fails to enumerate the classes of persons who have historically and disproportionately been the subjects of bullying and harassment. Research shows that students at schools with an enumerated anti-bullying policy reported harassment at a significantly reduced rate.

“This policy leaves behind Massachusetts’ most at-risk youth,” said Stanley Griffith, board president of Greater Boston PFLAG, and Danielle Murray, co-chair of GLSEN Massachusetts, in a joint statement. “It is critical to specifically name the problem in this kind of legislation—girls would not have sports and our schools would not be integrated if policymakers had not specifically addressed these inequities by enumerating categories like sex and race in our laws.”

The most common form of bullying and harassment in Massachusetts schools is based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The hostile school climate in schools contributes to elevated risks including an increased number of violent attacks against LGBT students and higher rates of suicide attempts and the use of drugs and alcohol among LGBT students.

Eleven-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself last April after enduring anti-gay bullying at his Springfield school. His mother, Sirdeaner Walker, testified in support of enumerated legislation before the Massachusetts Legislature’s subcommittees on education in their November hearing on this topic.

In a statement at last week’s press conference for S.B. 2313, Walker said, “My son was bullied with anti-gay remarks. Those kids at his school called him those names because they were probably the most hurtful things they could think of to say. And they hit their mark. Sexist and homophobic bullying and harassment are all too common. And evidence shows that school officials often do not recognize this kind of bullying and harassment as unacceptable. “

Less than one-fifth of students reported that school personnel frequently intervened when hearing homophobic remarks or negative remarks about gender expression, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey (NSCS). More disturbing, nearly two-thirds of students heard homophobic remarks from school personnel.

Enumeration makes it clear that this kind of harassment is unacceptable and gives educators the tools they need to implement safe schools policies that protect each and every student. Students reported in the NSCS that teachers were significantly more likely to intervene when homophobic bullying occurs in states with enumerated policies, as compared to states with either generic policies or no policies at all (25.3% vs. 15.9% and 12.3%).

Further, comprehensive policies with enumeration help ensure that the most at-risk students are afforded the right to an education. Students from schools with a comprehensive policy are 50% more likely to feel very safe at school (54% vs. 36%). Students without such a policy are three times more likely to skip a class because they feel uncomfortable or unsafe (16% vs. 5%).

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader in advocating for and protecting all or our youth,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN National, Jennifer Chrysler, executive director of Family Equality Council, and Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National in a joint statement. “However, this legislation leaves Massachusetts behind 12 other states and the District of Columbia, which have already passed effective, enumerated safe schools legislation.”


don said...

The important thing to remember is that S 2238 includes harassment against any student in its definition of bullying. S 2238addresses the harassment of LGBT youth. The cirtical issue is ensuring that training programs cover anti-LGBT issues involved in bullying explicitly. We are hopeful that the final bill adopted by the legislature will ensure that such inclusive training takes place.

Don Gorton, Chair, The Anti-Violence Project

smhollow said...

Thank you for your well written post. I have one question. You state that, “Research shows that students at schools with an enumerated anti-bullying policy reported harassment at a significantly reduced rate.”
I would be interested to know where you found that data. New Jersey has a protected class type of policy and the information would be useful in educating the districts I work with.

Thank you

Steven M Hollow
Regional Manager
Rutgers Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Project

Bobby Vassallo said...

Gay or not, Billy Lucas is the latest suicide due to bullying. Students at his Indiana high school pushed him to it. His principal's only defense was that he didn't see his school being that different from others, I guess, therefore he meant it wasn't his fault.

Well, lots are culpable. Phoebe Prince and Billy Lucas didn't need to die. They were God's children trying to find their way.

We must defend our children. If you know of a bully in your school, report him/her to http://bullyalarm.us Then, for goodness' sake, protect your fellow student/friend.

Anonymous said...

Lets address the real Problem: why we are missing the mark on bullying.

By Mucheru Njaga
Author of Patch: Assumption is a crime.

I was a bully.
I didn't plan on being one. In fact, before then, I was a victim of bullying. As a freshman in a all boys boarding school, I along with all of the junior students served at the behest of the "Prefects", a small group of senior students. They ruled our school with a heavy hand and had more powers than the teachers. They bullied us physically and mentally , once we had to jump on our knees, other times they banned us from wearing pants and limited us to shorts to serve as a constant reminder to who we are. Verbal humiliation was an everyday occurrence as well.

Four years later, I became a "prefect", a bully and part of a system I once despised. We would raid the freshman area in the middle of the night and make them follow whatever we ordered them to do at 2am or face severe punishment. We called them names in front of the dinning halls and used them as practice dummies during rugby games.

All of this was acceptable – condoned by the school faculty at the time because the "Prefects" were seen as the guardians and mentors of the young students. Today the danger of bullying and its impact on our society is finally shaking many people awake. Many groups and organizations have made significant steps in our fight against bullying but there seems to be a growing number of bullying related deaths in America and the world.(STATISTIC)

So where's the disconnect? Why are we letting this happen?
Where does bullying start?
In our efforts to address this growing problem, we tend to focus more on the end result of bullying rather than why it starts. The kids we recognize as bullies and vilify as the aggressors could easily be our very own children or next door neighbor. In other words, for every victim, there is a perpetrator, and I set out to find out what turns a lovable kid or teen into a bully. For the last couple of years, I compiled a case studies I believe could be a catalyst in our bid to stop bullying.
Throughout my entire experience, I noticed the common motivation behind bullying is fear. As a victim, I was afraid to fight for what I knew was right and as a bully, I feared loosing the tight grip of power I held. It is this fear that keeps things status-quo and continues the cycle.
The same basic principle plays out in schools today. Bullying is almost always a direct or indirect by product of fear. "Fear" of being labeled, "fear" of being uncool, fear of being seen as weak. Most of not all instances of bullying are rooted on fear. Sadly, it is this fear that prevents kids from living a free life, where they are free to be different, to be gay, to love a certain kind of music or activity, to be themselves.
So how does true change take place?
Define bullying with your kids and talk it out: For teens public perception has a substantial influence on their daily decisions. We need to clearly explain to kids what bullying is, how to spot bullying tendencies within themselves and how to avoid acting them out.