Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill seeking to protect students from cyberbullying, a measure that one of its LGBT sponsors says will also help gay students.
The End to Cyberbullying Act targets online bullying aimed at students or conducted using school electronics that impacts a student or disrupts school operations. The bill, signed into law by Deal (photo) on May 6, doesn't specifically mention LGBT students, similar to a 2010 measure signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue that toughened the state's anti-bullying laws.
But state Rep. Keisha Waites, one of two lesbian lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation, says it will boost protections for all students. And in a General Assembly dominated by conservatives and legislative fights over “religious freedom,” Waites calls the bill from state Rep. Pam Dickerson “a win.”
“It's my hope that this is another tool for the school systems to help protect and monitor our children,” Waites says. “I don't think it was necessary for Rep. Dickerson to put [LGBT] in there. It's my opinion that the bill applies for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. It is a win.”
Waites says the bill empowers school districts to take action against bullying that takes place online. She cites a gay student who faced taunts from classmates through social media. While Facebook deactivated the accounts of his assailants, the boy's school couldn't take action, she says.
“The social media dynamic allows you to hide and remain anonymous. The current bullying laws that we have in place, they do nothing to cover activity that may occur online. We now have some jurisdiction for school districts,” Waites says.
Waites adds that including LGBT in a list of protected categories could have derailed the legislation. But, similar to the 2010 bullying reform law, this new measure will also help gay students, she says.
“Kids can be mean. I see young kids coming out earlier. I've been amazed at their strength and by their courage. This law creates an environment to protect young people when they are figuring it out,” Waites says.
State Rep. Karla Drenner, another LGBT sponsor of the legislation, could not be reached for comment.