FRANKFORT — Bullitt Central High School freshman Aye Jay Long, 14, told a panel of lawmakers on Tuesday that he was continually harassed by his classmates, who called him a "fag" after he told them he was gay earlier this school year.
"I was getting shoved and pushed into lockers," Long said.
He said he once received straight As but now is getting Cs, Ds, and Fs because of the harassment.
His and other students' testimony helped persuade the House Education Committee to approve a bill that would require Kentucky schools to enhance their bullying policies, prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation, race or religion. The proposal now heads to the House floor for a possible vote.
Other students told the committee on Tuesday that they have been the subject of repeated harassment because of their sexual orientation. Many administrators were reluctant to step in and help the students, some said.
The House Education Committee voted 21-1 to approve House Bill 370.
Meghan Lampe, who is now a student at the University of Louisville, told the committee she attempted suicide after her freshman year at a Louisville high school because of repeated bullying at the school.
"It got to the point where no one wanted to be around me because I was gay," Lampe said.
Lampe said after Tuesday's meeting that she never went to administrators because she felt they would not address her concerns because she was gay.
"But they never addressed bullying at all," Lampe said of school officials.
Bradley Coffman, who is now a student at the University of Louisville, said that when he was a student at a Casey County High School in 2008, he came out to some friends at a conference while in Louisville. While Coffman was in his hotel room taking a shower, someone hung a stuffed animal Coffman had purchased for his friend and left a note saying, "You are next."
"Within the first hour of my coming out, I received my first but not last death threat," Coffman said. The harassment continued when he returned to school, he said.
The General Assembly approved an anti-bullying law in 2008, but that bill did not include language that said students cannot be discriminated against or bullied based on sexual orientation, race, religion or mental or physical disability. The language was originally included in the 2008 measure but was taken out, said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, the sponsor of the bill.
The previous law requires schools to report some bullying to law enforcement and issue a monthly report on all incidents.
Several members of the panel questioned why school administrators were not enforcing the anti-bullying legislation and why certain classes of people needed protection.
"To single out one group and say they are more protected than others is wrong on so many levels I can't even define it today," said Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville. "I am very troubled by this piece of legislation."
But Marzian said the state has protected certain groups of people from discrimination, including ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, since the 1970s.
Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, said that as one of eight black students at his high school, he remembers being bullied. Some school administrators pretended not to see that discrimination, he said.
"I understand what you're going through," Meeks said.
Dan Orman, assistant superintendent at Oldham County Schools, said the change is needed in the state's anti-bullying statutes because many adults do not know how to talk about gay, lesbian and transgender issues. The language would make it clear that bullying of gay students is not tolerated, he said.
"This legislation is for the adults," Orman said.
Marzian said she felt it was the students' testimony that was crucial.
"Aye Jay got the bill passed," Marzian said.
Marzian said she believes there will be time for the full House to take up the measure, although Lampe said she realizes getting it through the House and the Republican-controlled Senate is an uphill battle.
"I am cautiously optimistic," Lampe said.
Waide was the only member to vote against the bill. Two legislators, Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, and Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, did not vote on the measure.