Last week, the local ABC affiliate in Columbus, OH, broadcast footage of an openly gay student being beaten inside a classroom at Union-Scioto High School in Chillicothe, OH. The footage, which was captured on cell-phone video, reveals an ordeal that is unfortunately experienced much too often by students who either identify as/are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) The difference this time is that it was recorded for all the world to see.
"Ohio must have the courage to confront bullying," said Ed Mullen, the executive director of Equality Ohio, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization. This is also the headline of an op-ed appearing in today's edition of the Chillicothe Gazette. GLAAD worked closely with Equality Ohio and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in order to get this important message to Ohioans, and the residents of Chillicothe.
Mullen notes that it's precisely because of incidents like this that Ohio lawmakers need to embrace House Bill 208 as part of the solution. Currently stalled in the House Education Committee, HB 208 would enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity in the state's anti-bullying law. Other bills, which collectively make up the Comprehesive Safe Schools Act, would train students, teachers and school staff about the concrete harms of bullying, as well as improve the way in which parents are notified about bullying-related incidents. Cyberbullying would also be addressed.
As of today, Ohio's elected officials have yet to hear testimony in support of HB 208. Though Union-Scioto High School does have an anti-bullying policy in place, it unfortunately does not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"If it did, it [the policy] would send a clear message to students, teachers, administrators and parents that schools are meant to be safe and respectful learning environments for all students," said Mullen. "Research demonstrates that students feel safer - and actually are safer - in schools that have anti-bullying policies that specifically spell out these kinds of protections."
According to an Ohio Research Brief based on data from GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, 1 out of every 4 LGBT students in Ohio experience physical assault at school because of their sexual orientation. The same survey found that only 1 in 10 LGBT students attended a school in Ohio with a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Until our state's laws and school policies specifically address this problem, bullying will continue unabated and schools will remain unsafe," said Mullen.
"While it is sad that it has taken a videotaped beating for people to stand-up and take notice of this problem, I hope that policymakers, teachers and administrators don't let this fall off their radar until another violent incident occurs," said Mullen. "By supporting this legislation [HB 208], we send a powerful and timely message that every student in Ohio should feel safe, valued and respected in our schools."
Addressing the issues with bullying in Ohio becomes more timely with each passing day. Just yesterday, GLAAD learned that another student was beaten at a school in Westerville, OH. Though the student identifes as straight, the beating allegedly took place after years of taunting based on the student's sister's sexual orientation.
GLAAD has offered media training to the parents of the boys who were beaten in Chillicothe and Westerville, OH, both of whom sustained concussions due to the beatings. In the meantime, investigations remain underway, and GLAAD will continue to field media inquiries and monitor coverage. If you see problematic coverage of either incident, please report it here.