Anti-Bullying Measures Advance Against Obstacles

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a tug-of-war underway in the movement to pass more laws to address the growing problem of bullying, and it centers on whether such laws should “enumerate” bullying that targets LGBT youth.

Only eight of the 43 states that have laws to address safe schools enumerate—or specifically identify—bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited conduct.

The New York Assembly passed the enumerated “Dignity For All Students Act” on May 17 and sent it back to the Senate, where an earlier version had died.

But a bill that sought to address bullying in Michigan died in 2008 in the state Senate because senators could not agree on whether to enumerate the categories of victims. A new, non-enumerated version of the bill this year passed the state House on May 12, and now heads back to the Senate.

The right-wing American Family Association has been actively opposing language that defines bullying as “reasonably perceived to be motivated by animus or by an actual or perceived characteristic.” In an action alert to supporters in early May, the AFA said the Michigan bill would make bullying a “thought crime” and would still define it as “motivated by a student’s ‘characteristics,’ including homosexual behavior and cross-dressing.”

In the past several weeks, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have each enacted non-enumerated anti-bullying laws even though LGBT advocates had been pushing for enumerated versions.

New Hampshire is also feeling its way around the issue. The state already has a non-enumerated anti-bullying law. The state Senate passed a bill May 12 (already passed by the House) that would update the law to include “cyber-bullying”—using electronic devices to harass or intimidate other students. The bill notes that “Bullying in schools has historically included actions shown to be motivated by a pupil’s actual or perceived . . . sexual orientation [or]. . . gender identity and expression.” But, the new bill would not require school districts to adopt policies that specifically include protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In contrast, a bill in Illinois that covers bullying specifically targeted at students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, among other attributes, is now awaiting the signature of Governor Pat Quinn.

A 2007 survey of students by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that enumerated policies are more effective than generic ones. In schools where the policies enumerated bullying based on sexual orientation, students were found to be more likely to report harassment problems to staff, and staff were more likely to help.

But one of the most high-profile national groups pushing for laws to address the problem of bullying, “Bully Police,” is also one of the key opponents of enumeration.

Brenda High, founder of Bully Police, told the NY Daily News in March that she believes that state’s legislature has repeatedly failed to pass an anti-bullying law because the bill includes language that gives “special protection” to gay children and those with special needs.

On its Web site (, Bully Police explains, “Defining victims will slow the process of lawmaking, dividing political parties who will argue over which victims get special rights over other victims. . . . All children who are bullied are victimized and they ALL need to be protected.”

High founded the group after she lost her son Jared to a bullying-related suicide in 1998.

Bully Police representatives have been visible in pushing for the anti-bullying laws that have been enacted in several other states, including Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire, and Virginia, all of which are non-enumerated. The Florida law, the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act,” is named for the son of Bully Police state co-director Debra Johnston.

One of the “Recommended Speakers” listed on the Bully Police Web site is Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Throckmorton is a leading proponent of counseling aimed at encouraging gay people to overcome their same-sex attractions, and he contributed articles to High’s book Bullycide in America.

Throckmorton was also listed as a contact on a press release concerning a 2005 workshop held by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX). At that conference, Misty Cole, Ohio State Director for Bully Police, was invited to speak about why Bully Police believed anti-bullying laws should not be enumerated. (Throckmorton has since become critical of some of PFOX’s extreme anti-gay positions and is no longer affiliated with the organization.)

Throckmorton also asked High “for her advice to Christians who want to make a difference” for bullied kids. He used her answer in his 2009 article “‘That’s So Gay’—The Deadly Consequences of Bullying.”

Her reply read in part, “We must teach our children Christian values and ask our schools to teach ‘Do Unto Others’ values so that all of our children can have a safe and bully-free environment to learn.”

High’s words reflect Throckmorton’s own promotion of the “Golden Rule”—“Do to others as you would have them do to you”—as a way to combat bullying. Throckmorton has created the “Golden Rule Day” as an alternative observance on the same day as GLSEN’s annual “Day of Silence.” GLSEN’s event is meant to bring attention to LGBT-based bullying and harassment. Throckmorton’s event is for “Christian students” who condone neither homosexual behavior nor harassment or violence based upon it, but pledge to follow the Golden Rule.

The battle over enumeration could soon move to the federal level where several bills have been introduced to address the issue. So far, those bills include language to enumerate bullying against LGBT youth.

3 Responses to Anti-Bullying Measures Advance Against Obstacles

  1. […] saying this provides “special” rights to LGBT students. I just did a longer piece for Keen News Service on various state-level anti-bullying measures and the whole issue of “enumerating” […]

  2. Dave Parker says:

    If enumeration provides “special rights” to LGBT students, then so does the CURRENT enumeration of race, religion, and national origin that is included in almost all anti-discrimination provide “special rights.” If enumeration is bad, then it is time to eliminate ALL enumeration from these laws.
    I want to see which legislator has the guts to propose removing race, relgiion, and national origin from any anti-discrimination law.

  3. John Merical says:

    I wonder how all the unknown and known victims of bullying and bullycide would feel if they saw their parents rolling over for the AFA. Have they forgotten their child was picked on because of an actual or perceived characteristic? I would like to see a list of those parents who have lost a child to bullying who would still support this smoke and mirrors magic act of “thought crimes” if enumerated legislation was in place that just may have detoured their child and prevented that mistaken action that they cannot correct. There is a potential crime occurring but it’s not the legislative intent of the enumeration of bullying that targets LGBT youth.

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