For the first time in West Virginia state history, students will be protected against bullying on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The protections come as a result of the West Virginia Board of Education voting on Wednesday to approve Policy 4373. With this vote, West Virginia becomes the 18th state in the country with a statewide anti-bullying law or policy that protects students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Also noteworthy is that the approval of Policy 4373 represents West Virginia's first statewide law or policy that specifically recognizes sexual orientation or gender identity.
“What a historic day for West Virginia,” said Bradley Milam, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, the statewide LGBT-advocacy organization. “We all know that students are targeted because of physical appearance, disability, or perceived sexual orientation every day in schools all across West Virginia. This policy will ensure that these kinds of bullying incidents and many others will decrease, and for the first time, LGBT students are expressly protected from bullying. This could make all the difference in the world to students across West Virginia who are bullying victims.”
Fairness West Virginia has been at the forefront of efforts to make schools in West Virginia safer for all students. In addition to working with the ACLU of West Virginia on an anti-bullying campaign called "WV Bully Free," Fairness West Virgina has been meeting with the West Virginia Department of Education since July 2011. The organization compiled a large amount of research that testifies to the strength of enumerated anti-bullying policies in schools. Not coincidentally, in addition to protections based on one's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, Policy 4373 also protects students against bullying on the basis of their race, disability, religion, gender, physical appearance, socioeconomic status, academic status and "other characteristics."
GLAAD applauds the West Virginia Board of Education on their efforts to protect all students against bullying. At the same time, we congratulate the staff, board, volunteers and community partners of Fairness West Virginia on all the hard work that has come to fruition. This is a huge milestone for the LGBT community in West Virginia, and certainly only the first of what we know will be many. GLAAD urges the media to report on the historical significance of Wednesday's vote and the meaningful difference it will make in the lives of West Virginia students.