Two members of the Virginia House of Delegates — one gay, one a straight ally — have introduced two anti-bullying bills that, if successful, will be major accomplishments in the coming legislative session considering how difficult activists and elected officials there have found getting pro-LGBT legislation passed.
Del. Adam Ebbin, who represents Virginia’s 49th House District, which includes parts of Arlington County, Alexandria and Fairfax County, has introduced legislation that would make bullying a class one misdemeanor, give victims the right to sue bullies who are sanctioned or found guilty, provide for expulsions for bullies and require that any bullying that causes injury be reported to the state’s attorney. Ebbin is the only openly gay member of the House of Delegates.
Del. David Englin, who represents the state’s 45th House District which includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties and Alexandria, has introduced the “Anti-Bullying Responsibility Act,” which would add specificity to the codes of student conduct already required of state school districts, require schools to have procedures in place to separate victims from bullies, make bullying intervention a requirement for teachers, require incidents to be reported to superintendents and hold administrators responsible for their local policies.
“No child should be afraid to go to school and every child has a right to a safe learning environment,” Ebbin said. “We need to make sure that school is a safe environment for all our children.”
Forty-seven states have anti-bullying laws in place and 35 states have taken action against cyber bullying, including Virginia. Ebbin said these new laws, if passed, would “add teeth” to existing laws.
Englin’s bill, for instance, adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the definition of bullying even though some districts, such as his, already have that specified. He said having those areas identified is important because in some parts of the state, educators don’t take anti-gay bullying seriously.
“Even some teachers have been known to use anti-gay epithets in class,” Englin said. “This law would make it so that even in areas where there isn’t a strong policy that makes it clear that’s not OK, this would.”
Ebbin said he was inspired to introduce the legislation in part because of the late Christian Taylor, a 16-year-old freshman at Grafton High School in Yorktown, Va., who committed suicide last May after enduring months of bullying. He hung himself in his bedroom. His mother told reporters they had reported the bullying to school administrators and police but nothing was done. Police said they looked into the situation but turned it over to the school when they determined no crime had been committed.
Ebbin said one bully told Taylor, “you need to just go commit suicide and get it over with.”
Englin admitted, considering Virginia’s poor track record of passing LGBT-friendly laws, the sexual orientation and gender identity provisions in his bill could hinder it but he said it’s still important to try to get it passed that way.
Equality Virginia, of course, supports the legislation but said its staff and lobbyists have yet to finalize their legislative priorities for the year. The board of its lobbying arm is meeting this weekend to decide its members’ goals.
“We haven’t finalized anything but obviously a law protecting LGBT employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been on the top of our wish list for about three years,” said James Parrish, the organization’s deputy director.
Parrish also said provisions for partners of gay state employees and having sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the state’s human rights act will likely top the organization’s “wish list.”
And if Del. Bob Marshall introduces a bill — which he said he’s drafting — to ban gays from serving in the Virginia National Guard, Parrish said defeating it would be among his group’s top goals.
Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.