Last November, Brian Sims became the first openly-gay-elected member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and he has come out hard and fast in creating, and passing, anti-bullying legislation, AKA the Pennsylvania Safe Schools [PASS] Act.
“As many of you can imagine, as a member of the LGBT community myself, such measures are something that I am particularly attuned to. The fact remains that young members of the LGBT community--or those perceived to be--are bullied and otherwise discriminated against at alarming rates. Every study that looks to analyze the impact of bullying has shown there to be lasting, and extremely detrimental effects that can stay with a person for a lifetime.”
But the more interesting aspect about the passing of the PASS Act are the people who have jumped on board: Pennsylvania Republicans. Among the 67 co-sponsors of the bill are not just Sims and members of the LGBT caucus--like fellow representatives, and Democrats, Dan Frankel and Mike Sturla--but more than a few Republicans, including Mike Fleck, a Republican who recently announced, publicly, that he is gay; and some of his fellow Republicans Dan Truitt, Mario Scavello, Todd Rock and Justin Simmons.
“I felt like a major change following the last election cycle wasn’t that there was going to be a ground swell of LGBT Democrats—that support has always been there and has always been strong, but what we’re really beginning to see is the Republican Party get on this issue....[Anti-bullying legislation is] no longer a wedge issue. I think we’re seeing that Republicans who we know have always had LGBT family members, have always had LGBT co-workers and certainly had experience, themselves, with bullying.”
The PASS Act--endorsed by Equality PA and Service Employees International Union [SEIU]--would amend the Public School Code of 1949, by “further providing for program of continuing professional education; and, in safe schools, further providing for definitions, for reporting and for policy relating to bullying and providing for powers and duties of Department of Education.”
Those amendments would include a change in the definition of bullying to say that it is “any written, verbal or physical conduct” related to a characteristic like race, color, religion, and, now, sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also includes a definition of “cyberbullying.”
“Especially following Matthew Shepard, we saw a whole bunch of states pass anti-bullying legislation, which I call ‘toothless bills. They didn’t specifically enumerate the classes of people that need to be protected. They didn’t have reporting requirements, they didn’t have time frames on reports, they didn’t say what needed to be included in reports and I think this is very different. This bill protects those people from bullying and it will actually curb bullying—not just lend it lip service.”
Hopefully the newfound sense of bipartisanship in Pennsylvania might spread to other states, and hopefully their new anti-bullying legislation will follow suit.