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Friday, May 4, 2012

MassEquality Marks 2nd Anniversary of State’s Anti-Bullying Law: Calls For Reform

BOSTON, Mass.—Tomorrow, May 3, marks the second anniversary of the signing of the state’s bullying law. This law requires school districts to create bullying prevention plans and provide training on bullying prevention and intervention for all levels of school personnel.
“This bill is making a difference in our schools,” said Kara Suffredini, Esq., executive director of MassEquality. “But it hasn’t been enough. In Massachusetts, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids are four times more likely to skip school because of being fearful for their safety. This is unacceptable, and these kids—our kids—need to feel safer now.”
MassEquality supports passage of House Bill 3584, sponsored by the Commission on Bullying Prevention, which would amend current law so that school district bullying prevention plans would be required to explicitly identify those groups of students who are more vulnerable to bullying, including students who are LGBT or perceived to be, and students whose parents are LGBT. The bill would also require that schools collect data about bullying, which could then be used to assess the efficacy of anti-bullying curricula. It would also continue the existence of the Commission on Bullying Prevention.
“It is well documented that LGBT students, or those who are perceived to be LGBT by their peers, and those who have LGBT parents, are frequently the targets of bullying in schools. This change to the state’s anti-bullying law would set the stage for Massachusetts to catch up with thirteen other states whose anti-bullying laws explicitly protect LGBT youth in schools,” Suffredini said. “These protections are necessary to ensure that harassment of LGBT students, and all students who are perceived as different, is not overlooked or disregarded.”
According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, high school students who identify as LGBT were twice as likely as their straight peers to report being bullied and nearly five times as likely to attempt suicide. Meanwhile, a recent survey by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, found that 85 percent of LGBT students have been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 18 percent have been physically assaulted.
The state’s anti-bullying law was passed unanimously by state lawmakers in 2010 after the bullying-related deaths of two Massachusetts students. In 2011, the Commission on Bullying Prevention, chaired by Attorney General Martha Coakley, held hearings around the state to collect testimony about the law’s implementation and impact. MassEquality submitted testimony to the Commission in February, 2011. As a result of those hearings, the Commission recommended that the law be amended to require that explicit protections for students frequently targeted for bullying be written into anti-bullying plans. 
MassEquality works to ensure that every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender person in Massachusetts is protected from cradle to grave—with equal rights and opportunities in school, in marriage and family life, at work and in retirement.