Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: Going to school without fear is not a 'special right'

Berea College Theatre presents the world premiere production of "This is My Heart for You," a play by author Silas House, National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea, Feb. 22-26 at the Jelkyl Drama Center on the Berea campus. Photo by Rich Copley| Lexington Herald-Leader
Berea College Theatre presents the world premiere production of "This is My Heart for You," a play by author Silas House, National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea, Feb. 22-26 at the Jelkyl Drama Center on the Berea campus. Photo by Rich Copley| Lexington Herald-Leader Lexington Herald-Leader

On Tuesday, Kentucky House Bill 336, legislation that would have protected students from being bullied, was defeated in a narrow, party-line vote in the House Education Committee.

Ten of our representatives voted against it after hearing emotional testimony from several parents whose children had committed suicide after relentless bullying. Three committee members didn't bother to vote at all.

Some of these legislators cited an anti-bullying law already on the books as their reason for opposing the bill. However, their logic falls short.

To pass the "Golden Rule Act" in 2008, lawmakers stripped that bill of any specific language so that the law protects "everyone." The problem is that "everyone" language rarely works. That's why a bill like the Civil Rights Act had to be enacted in 1964, to specifically call out discrimination against blacks as lots of folks chose to just not include them as "everyone."

HB 336 specified that students may not be discriminated against based on their "actual or perceived race; color; religion; national origin; ancestry or ethnicity; sexual orientation; physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability; gender; gender identity and expression; or other distinguishing personal characteristic."

That sure sounds like everyone to me, but in language so specific that no one gets left out.

But Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he voted against the bill because it would introduce "gay rights language" into school statues.

Another representative, C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown, said, "we have sufficient laws."

A sufficient law would protect everyone, including those who are thought of as "the other" instead of as part of "everyone."

People who claim that any protection given to a gay student is providing "a special right" seem to not understand that without specificity, anyone seen as "the other" doesn't get the rights afforded to everyone else.

Voting against this bill (or abstaining) is simply more bullying, but done in halls of marble instead of lockers.

By opposing this bill — and claiming their hesitation is because they don't want gays to get "special rights" — these legislators are blatantly saying that gay students don't matter as much as their classmates, and should not be treated as equals.

I was bullied in middle and high school. Why did they bully me? Because I wore glasses. Because I was terrible at sports. Because I was the editor of the high school newspaper. Because I acted gay (whatever that means). Those are some of the reasons the aggressors gave.

But why did they really bully me? Because they were cowards, and I was smaller than them.

Bullies are always cowards.

Politicians who refuse to protect children are also cowards.

I survived by fighting back. But not all kids can do that. And I certainly didn't receive the worst bullying, although I witnessed plenty of it. And it's not much better today. Otherwise teenagers wouldn't be shooting themselves to escape the daily torture the way Miranda Campbell, 14, did after being repeatedly bullied because of her sexual orientation.

HB 336 would have required schools to have a comprehensive definition of bullying and would require all school district employees to have mandatory training in reacting properly to bullying. It would also acknowledge that people of a particular race, religion, orientation or disability are not often thought of as "everybody."

It is mind-boggling that so many members of the House Education Committee voted against a bill that would truly protect all students.

They should be ashamed.

Again, this bill was designed to protect everyone. But since the politicians focused only on the gay students, I'll do the same in my conclusion:

Before going to sleep tonight, these irresponsible lawmakers should think about every gay student who is lying awake dreading the school day tomorrow because their so-called representatives have told them the same thing the bullies say every day at school: that they're not good enough, and that they don't deserve any better.

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