This week’s article in Gambit (non-NOLA friends: a local New Orleans publication) ran a spotlight on the recent statewide anti-bullying bill- HB 407- which has been a heated topic of conversation within schools over the past several months.  Despite unrelenting support from the Orleans Parish School Board, the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana School Counselors Association, NAMI, and many others; Louisiana State Rep. Austin Badon’s anti-bullying bill was defeated in 2011 after immense opposition from religious conservatives.

Among one of the opponents of the bill, Rev. Gene Millis, president of the Louisiana Family Forum (a “family values” group here in the state), nicknamed the bill the “Homosexual Bullying Bill”.  He denounced the bill for its “gay agenda”, saying the bill forces teachings and awareness of “alternative lifestyles”. Not surprisingly, this lobbyist group is quite influential in the capital of a religious state like Louisiana. John Yeats, another opponent of the bill, and member of the Louisiana Southern Baptist Convention, is quoted as saying “Homosexual activists are hijacking the bullying statutes to promote homosexuality”.

This lobbying certainly won over Rep. Alan Seabaugh, who took the same stance to the bill, claiming he felt that the bill “was intended to promote an agenda and force teaching alternative lifestyles to our children.” In an email to a constituent in 2011 who took an opposite position than him regarding the bill, he wrote, “I have studied the teachings of Jesus Christ and I agree with his teachings regarding homosexuality. It is a sin plain and simple and it does not need to be taught in our schools. I was taught long ago to avoid getting into a debate with an idiot”.

This bill adds an additional protection for students based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and will be following the path of at least a dozen states who have taken the same stance on protection from bullying.  With so many suicides in recent media coverage bringing to light issues of bullying, not taking a stand means you’ve stood for the bullies, and for the harsh treatment these children are unfairly receiving in a place where they should undoubtedly feel safe.

With 84% of LGBT students reporting having been verbally harassed, 40% reporting physical harassment, and 18% being physically attacked (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, 2009 survey), the protection for LGBT students has an obvious need in an anti-bullying bill. This bill does not only protect gay and lesbian children, it protects every child that bullies target: overweight children, underweight children, children with glasses or speech impediments, “uncool” kids, as well as children of religious fundamentalists -the aforementioned opponents to this bill.  Protecting our children should be of the utmost importance.  Justifying your opposition to this bill by claiming nonsense about a “gay agenda” is not only pre-19th century stupidity, it affirms quite the opposite: a discrimination agenda.

A recent documentary, Bully, which follows several students during their real-life experiences with bullies, has made the news recently for its ‘R’ rating – which is counterintuitive to the attempted message of the film. If students are unable to see the film, then how will its message be relayed in time to be effective? More importantly, if the issue of bullying is seen as too graphic for young children, doesn’t that send a message about the crucial nature of this social problem?

In Arlington, Texas last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech on this topic, saying “we have an obligation to protect young people who are targeted just because they’re perceived as ‘different’… no one deserves to be bullied, harassed, or victimized because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love”.   Those who pride themselves on promoting the Christian, “Family Values” message, should think about what exactly they are refusing; and in turn, what message they are promoting as a result. Someone should remind them that Jesus did not discriminate.

**Sign the petition at stopbullyinglouisiana.org to keep “idiots” like Seabaugh, along with his “agenda”, from affecting the safety and well-being of our children.**