Family Equality testifies in favor of safe schools bill in Massachusetts

Yesterday, Brent Wright, our Director of Programs, testified in
front of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education in favor
of H.3584.  This bill would strengthen the current safe schools
law by adding a list of enumerated characteristics on the basis of
which bullying is not permitted.  Included in that list is
“associational language” that protects the children of LGBT

Read Brent’s testimony below.

Dear Senate Chair Chang-Diaz and House Chair Peisch:

My name is Brent Wright and I am here today to share my experiences
as a teacher, a father and an advocate. In all three capacities, I
testify today in support of HB 3584, relative to bullying in

I would like to start by thanking Chairwoman Peisch, Chairwoman
Chang-Diaz, and the entire Joint Committee on Education for holding
this important hearing. I would also like to thank the Attorney
General Martha Coakley for completing the necessary investigation
that lead to the introduction of this crucial bill.

As the Joint Committee knows, this bill would strengthen
Massachusetts’ anti-bullying law by adding three provisions:
enumeration, state-wide reporting, and an extension for the

I taught special education for 10 years, to children from
kindergarten to high school. I taught in the functional life skills
program, helping children with the most severe delays prepare to
live as close to independently as possible.

Bullying was a daily concern in the classroom for our students. I
worked tirelessly to ensure that mainstream students understood
that children with special needs should be treated with respect and
compassion. When our high school adopted a zero-tolerance policy
towards bullying, I saw a marked difference in attitude and
behavior among the student body. When a school, a school district,
and a state have policies that explicitly say what kind of bullying
is protected, the climate actually changes.

Enumeration of protected characteristics makes students feel safer
because they see themselves as personally included.  Studies show
that students in states with non-enumerated laws feel no safer than
students in states with no law at all. In contrast, students at
schools with enumerated polices report that their peers suffer far
less harassment than students at schools without enumerated

Enumeration is a critical tool for teachers and administrators as
well because it helps them understand what constitutes bullying and
empowers them to step in when they see it happening. Students in
states with enumerated anti-bullying laws are twice as likely to
report that their teachers intervene and stop bullying as students
in states without enumeration.

As a teacher, I strongly support enumeration. Speaking from the
perspective of a parent, I also support the inclusion of
“associational language,” which protects students from being
bullied because of who they associate with – who their friends
and family are. Most importantly for me, “associational
language” protects the children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender parents.

My daughter Olivia is 2 years old. Right now she knows a world with
two dads. A world where she is safe, loved and well cared for. And
when she enters school in three years, I want to ensure she finds a
welcoming and affirming environment where she is able to continue
to grow, learn, and thrive. As a parent, I want to know that when
Olivia enters school she will be respected and protected from
bullying, not only for who she is, but for who her family is as

According to the 2010 Census, there are 3,459 same-sex couples
raising nearly 7,000 children in Massachusetts. In 2008, the Family
Equality Council issued a report in partnership with the Gay,
Lesbian and Straight Education Network which found that nearly half
of surveyed children with LGBT parents reported experiencing verbal
harassment in the previous twelve months at school because of their
family composition, including negative remarks specifically about
having an LGBT parent. Inclusion of associational language in
anti-bullying legislation is crucial to protect children who come
from families like ours.

I now work as Director of Programs at Family Equality Council.  We
support and advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
parents and their children. I help create programs that bring
families together from across the country to celebrate our

As an advocate, I fully support the other aspects of this bill. In
order to understand how bullying is affecting Massachusetts’
students, we need to collect data at the state level. In order to
determine whether this bill is protecting our youth, I support
extending the Commission through June 30, 2013.

I would again like to thank the Chairs, the Committee, and Attorney
General Coakley for highlighting the importance of preventing
bullying and I urge the Committee to support HB 3584.

Thank you.

Brent Wright

Andover, Massachusetts