Apr 022012
 

Owen Courreges

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.

  • Kurt B

    Next law: IF YOU ARE NOT NICE TO PEOPLE, YOU WILL BE ARRESTED. Kids will be mean. If they are, they should be punished & parents should be notified. The “BULLY” law trend is so dumb.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Kurt,

      I tend to think it’s a good idea to have an effective framework at the state or local level to deal with bullying, rather than just dealing with it ad hoc. What I have a problem with is twisting the issue into a proxy for a social agenda by naming specific categories of victims when the truth, frankly, is that anybody can be a target.

  • LUANA MARIA RATHMAN

    Is that rancid stench in the air the cloying smell of a little homophobia, maybe? I agree that all children need to be safe and protected, but the fact that it has not been spelled out in the past that to bully gay, gay seeming or deemed to be gay kids is why it is being spelled out now. Gay teens’ suicide rate is disproportionately greater than that of other children. I suspect and fear that the very persons who say that ‘anti-bullying’ laws are going to give special privilege to gays are the ones who wish to continue to denigrate, harrass and harm that group. As to that infamous so called ‘agenda’ that some say we gays and lesbians have……it is simply to live a life free of pain and prejudice. You don’t have to like us…just leave us alone.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Luana,

      Is that rancid stench in the air the cloying smell of a little homophobia, maybe?

      Nope, and I resent the implication.

      I agree that all children need to be safe and protected, but the fact that it has not been spelled out in the past that to bully gay, gay seeming or deemed to be gay kids is why it is being spelled out now.

      It hasn’t been spelled out for any particular group, ever. The enumeration of certain groups in anti-bullying laws is a more recent invention. I’m not saying that anti-bullying laws should not protect gays (they certainly should) but they need to protect everyone equally, and designating certain categories of victims for protection doesn’t help with that. If the bullying behavior is the problem, and anyone can be a victim, then why do you support laying out categories of victims under the law?

      • LUANA MARIA RATHMAN

        Quite simply because teachers and others will usually step in when it is the non different, read non gay, kid. Many teachers have gone so far as to say that if we weren’t ‘different’, we wouldn’t get picked on, thereby blaming the victim. I am truly sorry that you didn’t speak up when you were bullied, Owen, and we will never know for sure, but I truly believe that you would have received assistance if you had, and that some others would not have.

        • Owen Courrèges

          Luana,

          I really don’t think that’s the case anymore than it would be if a kid was considered a geek or just socially-awkward. There are all types of “different.”

          For the record, the administration told me that they would back me up, but I was concerned about being ostracized even more if I spoke up.

  • David Z

    Peer to peer mediation is a concept that has been used with great success in schools across the country, particularly when it involves bullying.

    Student mediators help their peers resolve their disputes by encouraging constructive communication, helping parties take responsibility for their actions, and clarifying their needs and feelings

    See video: http://truevisiontv.com/films/details/87/beating-the-bullies

    The State should consider mandating the implementation of peer
    mediation as a part of their anti-bullying statutes.

    • Josh

      I hate to sound like an old fart, but what a bully really “needs” is to be taken down a notch. They may be spoiled brats at home and “feel” entitled to make themselves feel better by degrading others, but the school needs to ensure that their imagined sense of superiority is quickly snuffed out.

  • Phil Frady

    With the emergence of social media we have seen the bullying threat become an increased threat to teens, gay and transgender teens are particularly at risk for suicide a and suicide attempts in this new world of communication.