State Senate approves school anti-bullying bill


At the end of a day when a long-stalled L.G.B.T. rights initiative suddenly jumped to the front of the line, the New York State Senate on June 22 passed the Dignity for All Students Act.

The anti-bullying measure, already approved by the Assembly and supported by Governor David Paterson, provides protections based on a number of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The late-evening vote — approval came just after 10 p.m. — was 58 to 3, with all three no votes coming from Republicans.

The ayes, surprisingly, included Bronx Democrat Ruben Diaz Sr., a fiery anti-gay Pentecostal minister, who has been the L.G.B.T. community’s political bête noire for nearly two decades.

DASA represents the first time that the state Senate has approved any legislation making reference to gender identity. Yet, just two weeks after the state Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, in a 12-to-11 nearly party-line split (with Diaz joining the Republicans in voting no), the inclusion of gender identity in the legislation approved on June 22 elicited no comment at all during the floor debate.

“We thank the Legislature for passing the first-ever state law that includes protections based on gender identity and expression,” said Ross Levi, the new executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda — the statewide L.G.B.T. advocacy organization — in a written statement released right after the vote. “This significant law will now protect some of our community’s most vulnerable members — transgender youth for whom unsafe schools can be the beginning of a lifetime of marginalization that can include health issues and even homelessness,” Levi said. “We also thank the lead sponsors of this legislation, Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and Senator Tom Duane, for their perseverance in getting this bill passed.”

In a written statement, O’Donnell said, “Too many students are bullied based on real or perceived differences with their classmates. Every student deserves an environment free of harassment and discrimination, an environment that allows every child to reach his or her full potential.”

State Senator Eric Schneiderman, a candidate for state attorney general, also released a statement right after the vote, saying, “It sends a strong message that every student in New York State will be treated equally, and with the respect they deserve. And for the first time in history, protections based on gender identity and expression will be included in state law.”

The final lap toward victory for DASA emerged suddenly, when, amidst all the budget chaos gripping Albany, the measure, early in the afternoon on June 22, was put on the calendar for consideration by the Rules Committee, the final step before floor debate. Less than 10 hours later, the bill was approved overwhelmingly.