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New York’s New Bullying Law

June 23, 2010

Via Miriam at Feministing comes word that the New York state legislature has passed a bill called the Dignity for All Students Act, which protects students from sexual orientation-related bullying. However, DASA does something just as important and far more rare: it protects gender expression.

Protections for sexual orientation are narrow and can be circumvented. It’s easy for bigots to say, “I have no problem with gays and lesbians, as long as they don’t act all flamboyant,” and then claim to be discriminating on the basis of gender nonconformity instead of sexual or romantic orientation. In the real world, that leaves the protections inapplicable to the folks who need them most. Real protection means protection that covers both orientation and gender expression, so that it helps people who are gay, lesbian, bi, pan, queer, asexual or who identify in some other way, and so that it helps people whatever they were assigned at birth, whether they have a trans history or not, whether they conform their gender presentation to expectations or not, and whether they even fit on a binary gender scheme at all or not. Depending on how it’s interpreted, this appears to have that.

It’s not a GLBT specific bill, either. It covers race, national origin, weight and a host of other areas where students who don’t fit the norm are often singled out and harassed. This is a major step in the right direction.

Bullying is a tough nut to crack. Following the tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe is running a series on bullying and the first installment is up here. Schools need a mandate to put a stop to it, and they need the tools to do it. They also need an institutional commitment, which is not as simple as a piece of legislation. But this helps.

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