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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. April 23, 2012

Anti-bullying law includes sexual orientation issues

When he was running for governor in 2010, Lincoln Chafee made several pledges to the gay community. Most dealt with supporting same-sex marriage and non-discrimination policies, themes Chafee has often addressed in speeches, including his inaugural speech.

One required specific action: a promise to protect gay youths from bullying and harassment.

Chafee vowed to support legislation that would deal with the bullying of youths who are gay, bisexual and transgender -- those whose appearance or behavior may be different from conventional ideas of what many people regard as male and female.

In the spring of 2010, the Rhode Island Senate had set up a special commission to study bullying in general, bullying via the Internet and sexually oriented electronic messages (known as sexting.) The group held its first meeting on Sept. 9, 2010, four months before Chafee took office.

The commission issued its report in March 2011, and that led to passage of "The Safe Schools Act," which Chafee signed in July 2011. Two of the major sponsors of the law -- and members of the commission -- were Sen. Beatrice Lanzi of Cranston and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero of Jamestown, both Democrats.

The law called for the Rhode Island Department of Education to develop unified guidelines to deal with bullying and for local school districts to incorporate them into their own policies. The RIDE policy goes into effect June 30, 2012.

It says that "no student, employee, faculty or staff of a public school shall post, forward or otherwise disseminate any data, documents, photos, images or videos or other information using any technology medium, including social networking websites, which might result in a disruption of classroom activity of the educational process."

Specifically prohibited are bullying activities "that may be reasonably perceived as being motivated by characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or mental, physical, or sensory disability, intellectual ability or by any other distinguishing characteristic."

Sexual orientation covers gay and bisexual students. Gender identity would cover transgender issues.

Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said although the legislation did not originate with the governor, the State Police testified in favor of it, the Department of Education has been implementing it and, of course, he signed it -- all of which reflect the type of support he promised in his campaign.

We rule this as a case of Promise Kept.

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