November 17, 2017

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Massachusetts Governor Signs Anti-Bullying Law to Protect LGBT Students

Bullying-LGBTcolors-jmOn April 24, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation that would increase anti-bullying protection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) students, making Massachusetts the 17th state to pass such legislation. Law H. 3909 “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools” is an extension of an existing 2010 law against bullying in schools. This latest piece of legislation specifically calls for the protection of LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations such as those who may be bullied due to race or nationality. The law also calls for the effects of the law to be tracked through a student survey every four years using a data collection and reporting mechanism.

This pivotal piece of legislation is the first that pertains specifically to LGBT youth. The original 2010 law in Massachusetts focused on anti-bullying measures in general, and this law will require schools to fold specific protections for more vulnerable populations into existing practices. Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is “very excited to see Massachusetts take this important step. Getting this kind of very specific bullying prevention law in place is a critical step to getting LGBT students the support they need.”

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality, a grassroots advocacy organization in Massachusetts that works against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, called the law a “critical ongoing next step to keep all students safe in school so their focus can be where it should be─on learning.”

Though rates of bullying in general in Massachusetts have decreased since the original law was passed in 2010, bullying against LGBT youth has been on the rise, making this law all the more timely. Coredini is optimistic about the bill’s effects.

“Research shows that in and of itself, this conversation happening in schools actually positively affects school climates,” she said. “That’s our hope, that the experience for students in schools will be better, that they’ll feel safe, learn, and grow.”

Byard says that LGBT students in states that already have these kinds of law in place “fare better” in terms of “how connected they feel to their student community” and school performance.

She also emphasized the importance of tracking the effects of the legislation, saying that these kinds of laws are “only as good as their implementation. Tracking is a very important way to ensure that there’s accountability and make sure [the law] is not just something that’s on the books that means nothing in the hallways.”

Looking to the future, Coredini and Byard have high hopes for other states following suit. Coredini hopes that “…many other states that have taken that important first step bypassing a generic [anti-bullying] law will…go back and actually update it” to protect LGBT youth.

“The swift action of our elected leadership in Massachusetts as well really sends a message to the young people that their lives are valuable.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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