A survey of gay and lesbian high-school students by a gay-lesbian support group finds a majority of the students saying they don’t feel safe in school. That study’s prompted the advocacy group to renew its call for anti-bullying legislation.
The “Iowa Pride Network” surveyed 175 students in 48 school districts. More than 80-percent reported that they’ve been verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, and just over 60-percent say they don’t feel safe in school.
17-year-old Emily Frerichs is a 17-year-old high-school senior from Orange City. Frerichs says after she started a local gay-straight alliance at her school, several boys threatened to paint-ball her house, and vandalize her car. Frerichs says she keeps her car locked now, though she lives in a town where most people don’t even lock their homes.
17-year-old Tyler Moores is a junior at Carlisle High School, where he says insulting remarks are a common occurrence and teachers only intervene when the harassment escalates to violence. If he puts up a poster for choir or band on his locker, he says there are people who write words like “faggot” or “gay” or other slurs on it, and he has a friend he says was beaten up on the suspicion that he was gay.
The director of the Iowa Pride Network, Ryan Roemerman, says that kind of fear often leads to poor grades, another reason to pass anti-bullying legislation. Roemerman says all students deserve equal access to a quality education but now most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) students are being denied that. He calls it a wake-up call for school districts in Iowa that still don’t have policies protecting gay students.
Roemerman says the numbers show a majority of Iowa schools are failing when it comes to providing a safe learning environment for gay students. He says, “Violence and harassment continue to be the rule and not the exception in Iowa schools.” Roemerman says the state should tackle the problem directly, by passing a law specifically protecting gay students from harassment.
But Iowa State Senator Jeff Lamberti, who’s an attorney in Ankeny, says the state already has a law against such behavior. A new state law isn’t going to change the situation, he says, only a commitment from local districts and school boards will do it. Lamberti questions the need for a new state law “to try to get school districts to do what they are already required by law to do.” He says kids are already being bullied because of their weight or because they’re smart, and says schools should keep them all safe and make it a priority to protect all kids from harassment.
The Legislature last session rejected a bullying measure that would have forced local schools to adopt policies aimed at protecting students from harassment based on sexual orientation.