The fight to protect LGBTQ youth
Published Feb 21, 2011 6:25 PM
In Michigan there is currently a struggle over whether or not to pass
“anti-bullying” legislation. To define its opponents as
“bigoted extremists” would be an understatement. Who could possibly
stand in the way of protecting a child from assault, harassment and
Michigan is one of only five states that do not have some sort of legislation
that mandates local school districts to adopt a model anti-bullying policy.
Physical violence, harassment, intimidation, and verbal, written and graphic
gestures — including those that are electronically transmitted —
fall under the umbrella of bullying. While the word “bullying” is
itself a euphemism for the violent and hate-motivated terror that has led to a
spate of widely publicized youth suicides, the push for anti-bullying
legislation has spawned a progressive movement uniting the lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender and queer communities with teachers and their unions and
parent survivors of “bullycide.”
Named for Matt Epling, who took his life at the age of 14 after being
repeatedly tortured by his classmates, “Matt’s Law” has been
introduced and reintroduced in the Michigan Legislature over the past 10 years.
A version passed by the House in 2006 defined bullying as abuse “that is
reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived
characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin,
gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression; or a mental,
physical, or sensory disability or impairment; or by any other distinguishing
characteristic.” Under the Model Policy, school boards must institute
“appropriate remedial actions for a student or staff member who commits
one or more acts of harassment or bullying [which] may range from positive
behavioral interventions up to and including suspension or expulsion, in the
case of a student, or suspension or termination in the case of an
The Republican-dominated state Senate has repeatedly blocked passage. The
bill’s most vocal opponent has been Gary Glenn of the American Family
Association’s state chapter, who objects to protecting LGBTQ youth.
“Public school officials have a legal duty not to put children at risk by
in any way legitimizing or encouraging homosexual behavior,” this bigot
stated in 2007, “a practice scientifically proven to result in a
dramatically higher incidence of domestic violence, mental illness, illegal
drug use, promiscuity, life-threatening disease, and premature death.”
The LGBTQ movement is split over whether to support a compromise bill
eliminating “enumeration” of the various well-documented hate
motives, referring instead to acts “motivated by animus or by an actual
perceived characteristic.” Some activists believe that the substitute
language would still give targeted youth a measure of protection; others demand
enumeration, citing studies showing that harassment and physical abuse of LGBTQ
students are less frequent when their oppression is spelled out. Hundreds
representing both viewpoints came out for a Jan. 26 public hearing sponsored by
the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, joining in outrage at the failure to pass
any kind of legislation protecting youth not only from anti-LGBTQ bigotry, but
also from racist, sexist and anti-disability bigotry.
Glenn remains opposed even to the tame version of Matt’s Law. In 2009 he
argued that “ ‘characteristics’ language does not
define bullying. It defines one of innumerable motivations for bullying. Of all
possible motivations for bullying, what makes that one so special that
it’s the only one cited by the legislation?” He favors a version
that merely defines bullying as “bad.” (Michigan Messenger, March
Some conservative bigots have taken an even more extreme position, opposing any
anti-bullying legislation. In Minnesota, where progressive voices are calling
for the strengthening of that state’s weak law, unsuccessful Republican
candidate for governor Tom Emmer stated last year that “it’s up to
the parents ... how they handle that situation. ... I don’t want the
government doing that for us.” (Minnesota Independent, Sept. 8) Others
are parroting the old racist “states rights” line, using
Michigan’s “home rule” law to encourage local communities to
oppose state mandates designed to protect youth.
Safe schools are a right!
According to The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s 2009
School Climate Survey, 84.6 percent of LGBTQ students had been verbally
harassed, 40.1 percent physically harassed, and 18.8 percent physically
assaulted; LGBTQ youth were reportedly bullied at a rate four times that of
non-LGBTQ youth. They had the second-highest rate of reported abuse overall.
Frequent attacks also occur against youth of color, girls, immigrants,
religious minorities and disabled youth. A majority of youth overall
experienced some kind of so-called bullying; the number one bullying motive
cited was “appearance.”
Emboldened by Tea Party advances, the religious right is willing to shove young
people into the lion’s den for the crime of being different.
The torment all these precious children and youth face under a patriarchal and
racist, capitalistic system — where those deemed “beautiful”
are exploited to sell products and those deemed “ugly” are
ridiculed for profit by the entertainment industry — is criminal. These
brutal statistics are another reason to fight for a world where no child will
go to school in fear or commit “bullycide” to escape a life of
ridicule and terror.
E-mail: [email protected]
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE