It looks like Alabama is joining the recent rush of states pushing for LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation by advocating for safe schools legislation in the state. Last week, Alabama state representative Patricia Todd pre-filed legislation to expand the state's anti-bullying policies to include bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The state's current bullying law, a general policy that does not specifically mention real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, took effect in October of 2009. Now Todd sees the opportunity to strengthen the policy. Todd is the state's first and only openly gay representative and has advocated on behalf of Alabama's LGBT community since taking office in 2006.
The earliest her legislation will be considered is likely the 2012 regular session of the state legislature.
In The Birmingham News Todd emphasized the importance of specifically including sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-bullying policies:
If we don't specify that, they won't discuss it when they're doing their training. They'll talk about race or national origin, but they may be uncomfortable discussing sexual orientation.
A recent survey from Equality Alabama indicates that 70 percent of residents support expanding the current anti-bullying legislation to include the LGBT community.
This expansion, if it goes through next year, will be one of the most prominent pro-LGBT legislative wins in Alabama in several years. The state continues to face significant legislative opposition on many LGBT issues, including marriage equality, adoption laws, acceptance of the trans community, and employment non-discrimination laws. Just take a look at Equality Alabama's site - it shows how much of an uphill climb is ahead for the state.
News of Todd's movement forward with the pro-LGBT anti-bullying policy comes on the heels of the disappointing news that two federal bullying bills were omitted from last week's Senate discussions on legislative reform.
The Washington Blade has more:
The Senate Health, Education, [Labor] & Pensions Committee late Thursday reported out a massive education bill known as Elementary & Secondary Education Act reauthorization by a bipartisan vote of 15-7.
But the Democratic-controllled panel didn't vote on pro-LGBT bills that advocates were seeking to have included as part of the larger legislation -- the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or SSIA.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the sponsor of SNDA, and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), the sponsor of SSIA, both offered their bills as amendments during the markup, but withdrew them before a vote could be held.
There's only so much that a policy or law banning bullying can do; kids can still say incredibly hurtful things, and classmates can still be insensitive, thoughtless, and cruel. But those possibilities don't disqualify the importance of LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies in schools in Alabama and across the country. With these policies in place, teachers can be better equipped to recognize anti-LGBT harassment and systems can be in place to more effectively address and deal with students who continue to bully based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It's terrible to see the federal legislation go nowhere this week when it's continually proven how desperately it's needed and how widely it's supported by the general population. Let's hope Alabama has better luck and sanity next year, and let's make sure that federal safe schools advocates continue to push harder and more successfully to pass this important legislation.
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