Anti-bullying bill passes in state Senate

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Anti-gay bullying has been a topic of conversation in legislative chambers and at kitchen tables as the suicides of young people who were literally bullied to death have created a sense of urgency to protect students.

Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year old charter school student from Massachusetts, took his own life last week after incessant taunting by fellow students. His story served as an example of the eminent danger some students face as the Minnesota Senate debated — and passed on Thursday — a measure to guide school districts in addressing bullying. It’s a measure that Senate Republicans vociferously opposed.

“They were always saying, ‘you’re gay, you must be gay, you act like a girl,’” said Carl’s mother Sirdeaner Walker told the media last week. “My message is that the bullying, the teasing, the hurtful words, it has to stop.”

Walker’s story made the national news last week prompting a series of in-depth reports about bullying in schools.

It’s also been a contentious issue in the Minnesota Senate as DFLers push for anti-bullying protections while Republicans push back because the bill includes language pertaining to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

“It’s important to understand that everyone is harmed,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “It needs to very clear that this bill protects all kids. In a perfect world we’d say no bullying against anyone, period, end of story, but sadly we don’t live in a perfect world.”

The bill contains 14 categories of characteristics that are protected from disability to religious affiliation to physical body type. But Republicans made clear that the fact that sexual orientation was included was a problem.

“What is intimidation?” asked Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “If I am in school and say I express an opinion that marriage between a man and a woman is the only type of marriage that should exist, and I’m talking to someone who disagrees with that, is that harassment?”

Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-Anoka, posed a similar situation. “My daughter takes a pretty heavy stand in her school against global warming and she is harassed and she is bullied and she’s known at the school as the ‘global warming girl,’” he said. “The teachers let it go on because they perceive her as wrong. And I don’t see anything in this bill that might apply to her.”

Sen. Dibble said the bill covers both instances. “I think that’s a strongly held belief and I think ‘creed’ would cover that circumstance. I believe as strong as anyone that no kid should be victim to bullying and harassment. ”

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, offered an amendment to the bill that would prevent schools from speaking about gays and lesbians in a positive light. It would ban “the teaching in education institutions of homosexuality or bisexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”

To that Dibble said, “This amendment sends a really negative message to gay kids. Here it is, a Senate chamber that’s going to put words like this into law?”

That amendment failed, but the bill itself passed. All DFLers voted for the measure except Sens. Jim Vickerman of Tracy and Dan Sparks of Austin. Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, joined the DFL in voting for the bill.

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