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Bill would strip protections from LGBT students

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | FEBRUARY 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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Turk Pierson said he encountered some bullying in high school because he’s gay, but he was able to “brush it off.”

However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students aren’t so lucky, he said.

“I wish I could say that it’s uncommon, but I know too many people, and I’ve heard too many stories,” the UI junior said. “I don’t find it all that uncommon.”

A bill in the state Legislature aims to remove protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students in Iowa. However, local educators say the change probably wouldn’t affect K-12 students in Iowa City.

According to the current Iowa law, school employees, volunteers, and students are forbidden from engaging in bullying or harassment.

The law goes on to outline specific things that are protected by the law, including ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status.

But the law also includes two specifications that some state lawmakers have a problem with.

Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, and Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, are sponsoring House File 2291, which would amend Iowa’s current bullying law to remove “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the protected list. Neither Schultz nor Windschitl returned phone calls this week.

The bill has failed to garner much support. As of this week, it has not been approved by the House’s Education Committee.

But even if such a measure were passed into law, Leanne Bender, a counselor at Hoover Elementary, 2200 E. Court St., said local schools’ approach to bullying wouldn’t change.

“Our district has a history of always supporting diverse groups, so we won’t allow bullying in any form,” she said.

The curriculum in Iowa City schools briefly touches on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, she said.

“In my own lessons, we talk with fifth- and sixth-grade students about sexual harassment, specifically different gender identities and what that means,” said Bender, who is in her second year at Hoover.

The School District also employs a full-time equity director to deal with harassment complaints, including those regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ross Wilburn, Iowa City schools’ equity director, said the district has a policy on bullying that protects both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Even if the local district’s policy doesn’t change, Monique DiCarlo, the UI coordinator for sexual-misconduct response, said the proposed law could be harmful to the community.

“I think it weakens our standard of civility in a community,” she said. “It ultimately means a school can’t be held accountable for allowing bullying to be directed at someone because of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. When a school can’t be held accountable, it weakens not only the perception of safety but also real safety.”


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