MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s first openly lesbian legislator, state Rep. Patricia Todd, (D-Birmingham), pre-filed legislation last week to expand anti-bullying policies to explicitly prohibit harassment in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Todd told The Birmingham News that the same legislation had failed to make its way onto a committee calendar during last year’s legislative session.
According to a survey, commissioned by Equality Alabama and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and released this week, a majority of Alabamians — nearly 70 percent — support such an measure.
Todd said she is hopeful that the measure will be more successful in the 2012 session of the Alabama Legislature.
“It has been slow, but people’s opinions are evolving,” said Equality Alabama vice chairman Ralph Young. “We think (the survey results) show we’ll be able to make some progress in Montgomery.”
Todd said she hopes she can persuade her colleagues to support changing the state’s anti-bullying law. National news stories of suicides following bullying based on sexual orientation — or even the perception that someone is gay — are helping her make her case, Todd said.
“The studies all show that the majority of kids who are bullied are bullied because they’re perceived to be gay,” Todd said. “People are becoming more sensitive to that, but it’s terribly slow.”
In 2009, the state passed an anti-bullying law that makes it illegal for students to harass, bully, intimidate, harm or threaten to harm fellow students. The law required public school districts to pass anti-bullying and harassment policies.
The state Department of Education developed a model anti-harassment policy for school districts saying that violence, threats of violence, harassment and intimidation are prohibited based on race, sex, religion, national origin or disability. It did not address bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
Todd said it’s important that school system policies explicitly list sexual orientation.