May 1, 2012 at 7:20 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. Council gives preliminary approval of anti-bullying bill

The D.C. City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve an anti-bullying bill on first reading, with Council members expected to approve the measure in a final vote at their next session later this month.

The Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 calls on the city’s public schools system, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the city’s public libraries, and the University of the District of Columbia to develop comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

The bill, among other things, creates a bullying task force to consist of experts and representatives of various constituencies to monitor the implementation of the legislation. It strictly prohibits retaliation against a target of bullying or someone who reports an incident of bullying.

Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Larger) called the measure a strong bill “that will send a message to the entire city that we will not tolerate bullying or harassment of anyone.”

LGBT advocates, who supported the bill and lobbied the Council to strengthen some of its provisions, said it would play an important role in easing the longstanding problem of bullying experienced by LGBT youth in the city’s public schools.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the committee that last month completed work on the bill, told his Council colleagues just before the vote that an impediment in lining up funding needed to pay for the bill’s implementation had been resolved.

“A 2009 survey found that 25 percent of our LGBT middle school students reported being bullied in school because someone thought they were gay,” Wells said in discussing the need for the bill.

“That bullying impacts attendance as well,” he said. Nine percent of the LGBT high school students reported missing four or more days of school in the previous 30 days, five times the rate that straight students reported for the same time.”

The Council vote came 16 months after an earlier version of the measure was first introduced. LGBT advocates familiar with school bullying, led by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, called on the Council to add language strengthening requirements to report and keep track of bullying incidents.

The vote also came after Mayor Vincent Gray introduced his own anti-bullying initiative, saying he used his executive authority to direct city agencies working with youth to develop anti-bullying policies. Officials with the mayor’s office have said the mayor’s program would be integrated into the policies put in place by the anti-bullying measure passed by the Council.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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