Pushing Back, Quietly, Creating Change for Youth
Next Saturday, March 10, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, in concert with the Northern Virginia Chapter of GLSEN, is co-sponsoring a daylong anti-bullying workshop and other events designed to highlight this very real problem in our schools. You can learn more about the event here.
This is very timely because this issue has penetrated even the Virginia General Assembly.
Recently, SB 271, offered by Senator Henry Marsh of Richmond, passed both houses and is on the way to Governor McDonnell, who is expected to sign it.
It is a modest bill, requiring the Virginia Center for School Safety to provide training on anti-bullying tactics to public school personnel. The bill also allows the VCSS to include in its audits of school safety a survey of student safety concerns regarding bullying, gang activity, and acts of violence. But it is an important step forward from last year, when I and other representatives from POFEV, Equality Virginia, Virginia Organizing, and the Virginia Education Association, among others, participated in a House of Delegates Subcommittee hearing at which there was question on the part of some delegates whether the issue required any attention at all.
One way this bill was helped toward passage was that POFEV and Equality Virginia did not identify the bill—and a parallel bill introduced by Dels. Dance (Petersburg) and Plum (Reston)—publicly as an important part of our legislative program. This meant the bill did not get tagged as a “gay bill.” Sometimes, as I have said in regard to other legislation, you have to do things you don’t want to do in order to get a good result.
But this tactic also reminds me that efforts to protect and support all families in the Virginia General Assembly often meet with what feels sort of like bullying—that is, if you define bullying as something someone does to make sure you don’t feel like you can stand up for yourself.
I don’t mean that we are literally bullied—POFEV and Equality Virginia and others do stand up for all families, so we are not silenced—but there is a way in which you know when you go to the General Assembly that some will simply dismiss you out of hand, and they will do so in as negative and even mean ways as possible. And you know that most citizens would not be willing to stick their necks out in such a negative atmosphere.
And surely the fact that so many folks routinely claim that, for example, “gay marriage will never happen in Virginia” is an indication that the bullies have done a pretty good job shutting off hope, and not only for LGBT folks but for others as well.
The recent outburst of emotion and pushback by women’s reproductive rights advocates against really bad legislation was a welcome shot in the arm to those of who sometimes despair that we can stop bad bills, let alone advance good ones.
Still, I am grateful for Senator Marsh’s bill, and for Delegates Dance and Plum and all our allies on this and other matters. They are not giving up. We are not giving up either.
And we will not be silenced, no matter how much some may try to do so. Ultimately, the bullies do not win, because bullies are actually rather weak people. When enough people resist, they slink away. So, let us continue to build resistance. And work together, like the folks in Arlington, to create safe schools, and communities, for all students.
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