More than 50,000 people have joined a campaign on Change.org started by two Michigan LGBT students who say they were bullied in school. The teens head an effort demanding that the state legislature pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Katy Butler and Carson Borbely, two students who say they endured bullying in Michigan schools, launched the campaign on Change.org following the passage of the controversial “license to bully” bill in the Michigan state senate, which permitted bullying done on the basis of “religious or moral convictions.”
Their online petition urges leaders in the Michigan legislature to oppose this exemption and approve a comprehensive bill that explicitly lists the reasons students are most often bullied and includes reporting requirements for schools.
“I’m speaking out for all those students who suffer every day at school,” said Butler, a 16-year-old junior at Greenhills High School in Ann Arbor. “As students, we deserve a bill that will actually protect us at school. Unfortunately, the bills being considered in Lansing fall short of doing that.”
“People keep telling us youth that ‘it gets better,’” Butler added. “Well, it can’t get better if you don’t make it better. I’m doing my part to help; please do yours.”
In the past, Butler claims to have endured shoving, harsh name-calling, and an incident when her hand was slammed in a locker door. Her friend Borbely, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Ann Arbor District School, identifies as a transgender male and has allegedly been subjected to repeated harassment.
Bill passage creates controversy
Since being passed Nov. 2, for exempting those statements said to be based on sincerely held religious beliefs or moral conviction.
For many, this exemption proved to be one more flaw in a bill deemed necessary, but too vague in its present state to be effective.
“The bill does not go far enough,” wrote . “It needs to be stronger, all of our children need to be protected.”
For Amy Lockard, the exemption was a deal-breaker.
“My thoughts are that this bill was made ridiculous, and it now essentially sanctions religious bigotry,” she wrote on the Macomb Patch Facebook.
Pastor of also found this exception objectionable.
“I believe that any form of bullying is unacceptable,” Lutz said. “Therefore, to exclude bullying as bullying for one's faith is wrong. I also believe that it is sad that we have to legislate a bullying policy. Bullying should just not be tolerated period."
While House Bill 4163, which was passed Nov. 10, mirrors the Senate bill’s requirement for all public schools, charter schools and intermediate school districts to adopt and implement anti-bullying policies, but does not contain this volatile exception.
Cyberbullying a concern
With social media and smartphones becoming the common tools of Millennials and Generation Y, “cyberbullying” too is becoming more prevalent.
“It’s very frustrating and upsetting to students,” said counselor Jan Allen. “It is difficult to respond to. It’s hurtful and can interfere with school and become an emotional disability.”
Though the House bill covers electronic devices owned by the school, critics say it should also include provisions against cyberbullying on computers and electronic devices that are privately owned.
Effort can begin locally
While most agree the current legislation leaves room for improvement, in Macomb Township, some feel that the most effective anti-bullying efforts will stem from school-based programs rather than state-mandated policies.
"This law doesn’t directly stop bullying in the classroom, but it rather pushes schools to implement plans to do so,” said Charlie Kadado, Dakota sophomore. “The positive aspect of this law is that it forces schools to change. It forces schools to create programs to prevent bullying and to avoid it from happening.”
That is exactly what L’Anse Creuse North counselor Lori O’Neal is hoping will happen.
“I think (the legislation) is needed because kids think bullying is taking someone and shoving them in a locker,” she said. “They don’t realize there are so many different forms. Kids don’t understand what bullying is–that it’s not part of everyday life.”
O’Neal believes the legislation, though imperfect, will provide a foundation on which schools like North can build their own anti-bullying programs–programs like Chippewa Valley Schools' , which has already been in place for several years.
“Dakota’s Hero in the Hallway program is an excellent example of what schools need to put into practice,” Kadado said. “Action to stop bullying starts with the students, not with school administration or with state or local government.”
At present, Michigan is just one of three states in the country that does not have an anti-bullying law.