Gay rights leaders from across Kentucky are supporting a bill that would strengthen the state’s current anti-bullying laws.The legislation was introduced by state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, and would create or improve protections against discrimination based upon students’ race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or learning disabilities.
State lawmakers passed a broad anti-bullying law in 2008, but supporters contend it overlooks certain students and have ratcheted up support after the suicide of 14-year-old Kentuckian Miranda Campbell, who reportedly shot herself after being teased for being bisexual.
Louisville Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says state and school officials should pay closer attention to students who are being bullied, but stricter laws should apply to prevent young people from being perpetually harassed.
“The legislation is pretty clear that school boards and the department of education develops what sort of penalties are associated with bullying incidents. But when there is physical harassment…when it rises to that level it becomes a misdemeanor as it would anywhere,” he says.
The measure passed last year by an overwhelming majority in a House committee, however, state Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, opposed the bill and argued it would prohibit students who believe homosexuality is a sin from expressing their religious views.
He successfully stalled the legislation with a number of amendments.
In response, Marzian has included additional language during this legislative session that protect a fellow student’s right to religious freedom of speech regarding sexual orientation. The language states that: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit or deny the civil expression by any student of religiously based opinions on issues related to sexual orientation.”
Hartman says the amendment should address Harmon’s complaint and balance protecting students First Amendment rights and harassment
“It allows for that free civil expression to say in the classroom my religion believes that transgender individuals or lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are perhaps sinful and everything that goes along with that with their religion. It does not allow for them to turn on another student and commit harassing or an utterance that is meant to intimidate,” he says.
Harmon was unavailable for comment.