This guest post was written by Amy Hunter, President of Equality Michigan Pride PAC.
An “anti-bullying” bill with exceptions, really?
In a stunning betrayal of the public trust, ultra-conservatives in Michigan pushed an “anti-bullying” initiative through the state Senate Wednesday after attaching an amendment that radically changed the legislation’s impact. The surprise change guts the bill by giving bullies a pass if their offense was perpetrated because of “deep moral conviction” or ”religious belief.” Senate Bill 137, originally intended to protect all students from bullying, was under a cloud of criticism by Democrats and the gay and transgender community for its lack of enumerated protections before being eviscerated further by far-right extremists.
Lack of enumeration was already a point that gay, transgender and progressive communities were citing when characterizing SB 137 as “weak.” An enumerated bill would be a much stronger measure as it would list, or enumerate, classes of people that are most often targeted by bullies. Much like existing non-discrimination or equal opportunity laws which list, race, creed, age, sex, etc., enumeration of this anti-bullying bill would provide protections for specific characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The recent and tragic uptick in suicides related to the bullying of gay and transgender students, along with well-established research, points to a dire need for specific protections.
In Michigan, where the fight for any anti-bullying legislation has gone on for years, the call by Governor Rick Snyder last June in an education policy speech for “strong, comprehensive anti-bullying legislation” was seen as a request even the hostile Republican-controlled legislature could not ignore. Unfortunately, it soon became evident that lawmakers would not follow the Governor’s lead as they blocked well-considered enumerated legislation from making it out of committee.
Embarrassingly, Michigan has neglected to take action for at least ten years while states around the nation have passed enumerated legislation. This leaves Michigan among a mere handful of states that have perpetually failed to adequately protect their youth. In 2002, fourteen year-old Matt Epling, a freshman high school student whom had been assaulted as part of a hazing ritual, committed suicide. Under relentless pressure from his peers and threat of retaliation if he pursued charges, Matt ended his own life. Matt’s parents have helped promote the growing public awareness that bullying is a serious and widespread problem. Noting the increased risk to minorities and marginalized groups, the gay and transgender community has since lobbied unceasingly for the passage of “Matt’s Law” in hopes of addressing the consequences of unrestrained hostility toward students based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
As of this writing, the Michigan House of Representatives has the opportunity to shelve this cynical piece of legislation in favor of a much stronger bill which would not only leave out the so-called “moral convictions” exception, but would also offer specific protections. It is time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to take a firm, principled stand instead of appeasing a right-wing minority with vague language detailing nothing except “perceived characteristics.”
Our elected representatives owe the citizens of this state swift, responsible action. Far too many lives have been lost or damaged beyond repair for there to be an excuse which legitimizes the political and ideological ends social conservatives seek. The House of Representatives must go far beyond a hollowed out political football and instead of playing games with our young people’s lives offer an enumerated bill with strong protections for all at-risk youth and far-ranging consequences for those who perpetrate violence against their peers.
Petition the Michigan House to pass a better bill at Change.org.
Amy Hunter is the President of Equality Michigan Pride PAC, which is Michigan’s premiere funding source promoting equality for all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Learn more by visiting www.eqmipridepac.com.