Jackson Heights This Week
New Law Stands Up For LGBT Youth
1-7 July 2010
The New York State Senate passed sweeping anti-bullying legislation on June 22 that will be the first in the nation to include protection for transgender individuals.
The Dignity for All Students Act passed the Senate by an overwhelming 58-3 margin, winning support from Democrats and Republicans. Gov. David Paterson has vowed to sign the bill, which has already passed the Assembly.
“I’m thrilled that the Senate finally took action after 10 years,” said Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and Vice President of the Board of Directors of Queens Pride House. “Both Democrats and Republicans saw there was a need to protect students in public schools from harassment.” Park had been involved in pushing for passage of the bill for over adecade.
The bill requires school staff to report bullying and bias-based discrimination and harassment based on a comprehensive list of characteristics, including disability, ethnicity, race, religion and sexual orientation, as well as gender, and it requires training to deal with instances of bullying and bias-based discrimination and harassment. Park noted the definition of gender is a crucial component of the legislation, as surveys show that bullying and harassment based on gender identity and expression have become a major problem in schools.
The New York City Council passed a similar law in June 2004 called the Dignity in All Schools Act. Mayor Mike Bloomberg vetoed it shortly after, but the mayor’s veto was overridden. The Bloomberg administration and DOE refused to implement the law, claiming the City Council didn’t have authority to pass legislation dealing with schools since the state legislature authorized Mayoral Control of schools. Park disagreed.
“We didn’t see anything in the law [allowing Mayoral Control] that would preclude City Council from legislating in these matters,” she said. She noted that the state law now supersedes the city law and requires the DOE to enforce it. Park said she and other LGBT activists would be fully involved in seeing that the law is implemented in city schools.
The two laws are similar. The local law applies only to harassment and not discrimination, which state law includes, but the state law only applies to public schools while the city law also includes private schools.
Park, who lives in Jackson Heights, said the new law was especially important for Queens because of the borough’s diverse demographics.
“Biased-based harassment and discrimination is a huge issue in the diverse student population of Queens,” she said. “This law will certainly be relevant here.”
Reach Reporter Domenic Rafter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125.
— Domenick Rafter
This article originally appeared in the print edition of the 1-7 July 2010 issue of the Queens Tribune.