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Anti-gay incident renews calls for bullying legislation

By |2018-01-23T14:49:51-05:00December 17th, 2009|News|

Originally printed on www.michiganmessenger.com

LANSING – A cell phone video of a Lansing School District bus driver harassing a student about her sexual orientation has legislators, gay activists and anti-bullying advocates crying foul.
“This incident was verbal bullying,” said Kevin Epling, co-director of BullyPolice U.S.A. an anti-bullying program.
“The bus driver was in control of the situation. Bullying is an imbalance of power. The student had no choice but to accept what was being said and to act later.”
WLNS, the CBS affiliate in Lansing, has the video of the Dec. 2 incident.
Chinea Larkin, a 10th grade student of the district, told the station: “When I got off the bus … she said ‘get your gay tail off my bus.'”
In the video, the unidentified female bus driver can be heard saying to Larkin: “Hopefully you and your little girlfriend don’t get lost in your unsaved lives.”
Lansing school officials announced late Thursday that the bus driver was on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
Epling is a member of the Safe Schools Coalition, which has been working for nearly a decade to pass comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in the state of Michigan. Epling is involved because his son, Matt, committed suicide after being the victim of bullying and the legislation is named Matt’s Law after the East Lansing teen.
Epling said if Matt’s Law was approved, each local district would have to hold a public meeting to discuss a proposed anti-bullying policy, and that staff – including bus drivers – would have to be trained in bullying issues and how to prevent them.
The law came close to passing the Michigan Senate during the lame duck session nearly a year ago, but it died when Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt) refused to allow the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the compromise bill pending before the chamber. It passed the Michigan House earlier in the year.
Legislation has been introduced this session by Sen. Glenn Anderson, a Democrat from Westland.
“It’s sad that an incident like this has happened,” said Anderson. “It shows the need for Senate Bill 159 to be passed, to demonstrate the state is serious about this problem.”
“This incident in Lansing is an example of why anti-bullying laws are needed in our schools in Michigan,” said Alicia Skillman, executive director of the Triangle Foundation. “Bullies come in all sizes; it’s extra insidious when it is an adult against a child.”
“Something should be done so (the victim’s) parents, and other parents throughout Michigan, will not have to worry about bullies like the bus driver. The Triangle Foundation believes this is an opportune time to contact your representatives in Lansing and ask why they have not passed laws protecting all of our children.”
Phil Volk, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Caucus, said his group was “outraged” by the incident.
“We keep saying this is going on – this bullying,” Volk said. “But now … this is powerful.”
Volk said his group will announce plans to protest the Lansing School Administration building and said it was time for “every person who cares about youth in this state” to call or e-mail legislators to “demand they pass fully-inclusive antibullying legislation.”
While the student said she hopes the driver loses her job, Epling said he hopes there will be a “teachable moment” for the district in the incident.
“The incident also opens a deeper discussion about staff member training within the school system concerning tolerance and acceptable behavior. If there has not been a recent training, one should be scheduled and (should) incorporate the greater community,” said Epling. “It’s amazing that 54 years ago this week a young lady in Detroit sat on a bus and said I will not be bullied, and here we have a similar event. We need to make it a teachable moment.”
But the driver of the bus could face more than employment issues. Penny Gardner, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, says the incident may have violated the city’s 2006 Human Rights Ordinance. That law makes it a civil infraction to deny access to public accommodations – such as a public school bus – based on a person’s real or perceived sexual orientation. But following through with a complaint might be a problem.
“I hope it’s turned over to the Office of the City Attorney to be investigated as a violation of our human rights ordinance,” said Carol Wood, an at-large Lansing City Council member. “And I expect a speedy and thorough investigation and response.”
Wood said she was “saddened” by the event, but joined Gardner in applauding the other students on the bus, including the youth who video taped the incident. “These students should be commended for the fact they stood up for one of their own and said this is absolutely not acceptable.”

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