Let me tell you, having your finger slammed in a locker — snapping your fingernail clean off — is not something you quickly forget. I was in seventh grade and somewhat socially awkward, so I was picked on a bit. It would be difficult to identify a single reason why I was targeted, but suffice to say that the bullying was incessant.
I put up with the bullying, as if being quiet and unassuming would spare me, but of course it didn’t. Bullies don’t go away just because you ignore them.
Making matters more pathetic, two of the students who bullied me were girls. One of their lockers was next to mine, and she thought it would be hilarious to add injury to insult by slamming my locker door on my hand. It clipped the top of my left ring finger.
My finger throbbed and began to bleed heavily. The girls pointed and laughed as I panicked, turned and ran to the nurse’s office. It took months for my fingernail to grow back. The bullies get off scot-free.
I didn’t snitch. Instead, I begged my parents to spring for private school. I left and never looked back.
Given this experience, you might think that I would be a cheerleader for the new anti-bullying legislation currently being debated in Baton Rouge. It even has one of those “how can you not support this” type of names: the Bullying Prevention Act of 2012. A person who opposes this has to be objectively pro-bullying, right?
Wrong. In fact, Louisiana already has anti-bullying laws. The centerpiece to the Bullying Prevention Act is not the introduction of a new class of criminal offense for bullying, but the enumeration of protected categories of persons. In other words, the act shifts the focus away from the act of bullying and towards the identity of the victim. That’s where it loses me.
The legislation specifically references “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, physical characteristic, political persuasion, mental disability or physical disability, as well as attire or association with others identified by such categories.”
Accordingly, if you’re bullied for being a geek or a nerd, the law is devoid of any reference to your situation. On the other hand, if you’re bullied for being a communist with a cleft palate, the law gives you a shout-out.
Proponents of enumeration claim that it is essential because it is the only way an anti-bullying law can actually afford additional protections. However, there is no logical reason why an anti-bullying law cannot both have teeth and be all-inclusive. After all, the goal is supposed to be to crack down on bullying in schools generally, not-to cherry-pick groups for additional protection and leave everyone else to the wolves.
To make matters worse, the insistence upon enumeration has caused the debate over stronger anti-bullying laws to degenerate into yet another front in the culture wars.
The primary opponent of the Bullying Prevention Act (or at least at the most vocal) has been the Louisiana Family Forum, which has called the “bullying” theme “agenda-driven propaganda.” The LFF views anti-bullying legislation as a pretext for pushing a socially-liberal agenda in schools with respect to issues of sexual orientation and gender identification.
Whether the LFF is correct or not, it would be more fruitful if both sides could reach common ground and draft a new anti-bullying law that affords greater protection to all students without enumerating categories, a law that, say, might have made my seventh-rade self more comfortable reporting the bully that slammed my finger in a locker.
Anti-bullying legislation failed last year because no compromise could be reached. Here’s to hoping that cooler heads prevail this year.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.