Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 8, 2011

W.Va. aiming to protect LGBT students from bullies

Associated Press

CHARLESTON — A proposed anti-bullying policy for West Virginia schools acknowledges for the first time that sexual orientation and gender identity are common reasons for harassment. Had it been in place when Michael White was in middle-school, it might have spared him the worst years of his life.

“When I heard about this, I started crying because it’s been a long road,” said White, a 21-year-old junior at Fairmont State University who was bullied for being gay as a teen in St. Albans. “This is very, very necessary, and I really think it will be a massive step toward equality.”

The Department of Education is taking public comments until 4 p.m. Tuesday about the 75-page student conduct and disciplinary policy. The assistant state superintendent will lay out the policy for the board Tuesday in Charleston. A vote is set for Dec. 14. If approved, the changes that acknowledge the targeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students would go into effect July 1, 2012.

The civil rights group Fairness West Virginia lauds the enumeration of reasons why children are bullied as “a landmark achievement” that effectively provides political and legal cover to teachers, counselors and others who might hesitate to intervene for an LGBT student.

“Teachers may feel they’re putting their reputation or job at stake by protecting a student,” said executive director Bradley Milam. “But now, they can simply point to the policy.”

It also tells those students and their families that they have the right to protection, he said.

But the Family Policy Council, which has long opposed protections for people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, calls the policy “dangerous and expansive.” President Jeremy Dys contends “bullying should be defined by a person’s actions, not the status of his victim.”