Last night the New York State Senate approved a bill that will protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment. The Dignity for All Students Act, approved by an overwhelming 58 to 3 vote, includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier this year, the bill was approved by the Assembly in a vote of 138 to 4, and now needs to be signed into law by the governor in order to pass. Governor David Paterson, a huge supporter of gay rights, is expected to sign the bill. If he does so, it will take effect July 1, 2012.

The Act would allow bullying that interferes with student safety and learning to be properly addressed by school administrators. Schools will be expected to develop rules to prevent and respond to bullying, harassment, and violence, leading to training guidelines for staff, teachers, and administrators to prevent bullying and will require that schools report any incidents of harassment to the State Education Department. The bill will also call for character education curricula to include discrimination awareness.

The Dignity for All Students Act protected students on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, weight, and disability, in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity.

This becomes the first state law passed by the Senate that includes protections based on gender identity and expression. Two weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act with a 12-11 vote, yet the floor debate on the Dignity for All Students Act didn’t include any debate over the inclusion of gender identity.

A recent GLSEN study shows that LGBT students in New York face a substantial amount of bullying and harassment. About 79 percent of LGBT students have been harassed in the past year due to their sexual orientation and 62 percent have been harassed due to their gender expression. Further, LGBT students miss school because of harassment at an alarming rate.

The Dignity for All Students Act has the potential to change this data and prevent bullying and harassment against LGBT students. The overwhelming approval of the bill by the New York State Senate sends a powerful message that LGBT youth deserve safe spaces to learn.

Photo credit: John Steven Fernandez

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