by Rex Wockner
NEW YORK CITY – New York Gov. David Paterson signed a bill Sept. 7 protecting students in New York public schools from bias-based bullying and discrimination.
He signed the legislation in a ceremony at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City.
“The Dignity for All Students Act will provide important new safeguards to ensure that schools are places where students can concentrate on learning and personal growth, not on avoiding taunting or violence,” said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
The new law targets harassment based on race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. It requires teacher training on discouraging bias-based harassment, inclusion in coursework of discrimination and harassment awareness, and reporting of bias incidents to the state Education Department.
The law marks the first time New York state has legislated explicit protections for transgender people.
A 2007 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 33 percent of LGBT students skip school in any given month because they fear for their safety, compared with only 4.5 percent of the general student population.
“For some young people, going to school is tantamount to a daily dose of torture,” commented National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. “In too many cases, harassment, taunting and abuse are allowed to go on unabated in our nation’s schools. We have repeatedly seen the tragic consequences of this pervasive problem: Young people are left emotionally damaged, physically hurt, or feel they have no other option than to take their own lives out of hopelessness and despair. Youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — or simply perceived to be – are often the targets of this abuse.
“Today, New York said enough is enough.”
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws to protect gay/lesbian and, in some cases, transgender students. However, 44 states have anti-bullying laws on the books, although LGBT students are not specifically enumerated. Six states – Michigan, Hawaii, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Missouri – have no laws at all protecting students from bullying.