NOREEN: Don't bully gays or anyone else

By: BARRY NOREEN
May 13, 2011
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Bullying is not ok.

On Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed HB1254, which requires all public schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. The legislation had pretty broad support but showed up on the radar of some Christian groups because it specifically includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students for protection.

We all know teenagers can be nasty, and that mere passage of a law will not bring an automatic halt to bullying in schools. The civil rights act passed in 1964 did not end racism in America.

But there is a point in movements — and there has been an anti-bullying movement — when it’s important that a society, through its government, makes an official declaration about right and wrong. That’s why HB 1254 is important.

“You have to name something in order to work on fixing it,” said Shawna Rae Kemppainen, executive director of Inside Out Youth Services of Colorado Springs, one of a large coalition of groups that lobbied for the bill.

Others groups included the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers.

Kids are bullied for lots of reasons, but there’s no doubt that being ostracized or put down because of one’s sexual orientation is one of the most common factors.

In a statement released last week, Kemppainen cited research that says for each youngster bullied because of his or her sexual orientation, there are four straight kids bullied merely because someone perceives them to be a member of some sexual identity minority group.

“Fewer than half of school principals say that gender identity is a part of their anti-bullying policy,” Kemppainen said.

Bill sponsor State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the legislation “sends a clear message that bullying is no longer an adolescent rite of passage but a serious problem that will not be tolerated in our schools.”

The Columbine High School tragedy taught us bullying can push some kids terribly astray. We know numerous teen suicides have been linked to bullying. Sure, generic anti-bullying policies have been in place, but it’s a good thing to be specific: Hey bullies, leave the LBGT kids alone.

“Adults have a responsibility to make sure schools are safe,” Kemppainen said.

We sure do.

You can disapprove of someone’s lifestyle, but you don’t get to bully them over it. It’s a message for kids, for sure, but it’s also a message too many adults have not learned.

For a long time we’ve been resigned to bullying, as if nothing can be done about it.

But we can do something, and HB 1254 is a start.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and read his blog updates at gazette.com

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