Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Bill Fails to Adequately Protect LGBT Students, According to Joint Statement by National and Local LGBT Organizations

Friday, The Massachusetts Senate 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

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. 

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. 

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.

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%). 

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%). 

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