We have seen too many young people in Vermont and around the nation lose their hope, their passion, and their lives due to the increased presence of bullying in today's society.
States must continue to push anti-harassment bills through their legislature to increase protection for our youth. Here in Vermont, we have passed legislation that I believe has made a real difference.
In 2004 the Vermont legislature passed the Vermont Bullying Prevention law, which established the first bullying prevention procedures in Vermont schools. While I was not a member of state government at the time, I was proud to support this bill as a father who wanted to see my children grow up in a community that valued dignity over fear.
Recognizing that bullying is not confined to the classroom, this year I signed H. 412 and H. 771 into law, taking a firm stand against bullying here in Vermont. This law gives communities the tools to prevent electronic bullying, after-school bullying, bullying beyond school grounds, and bullying beyond the school day.
The legislation also clarifies the definition of harassment to pervasive or severe, recognizing being bullied once is enough to make a severe impact on our youth.
As someone with dyslexia, I was often teased as a young person because I learned differently from other kids. I know what it's like to be made fun of, but I never experienced the severity of bullying and harassment that many young people today suffer through every day.
I recently had the privilege of recording an "It Gets Better" video aimed at young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. The positive response that has met similar video messages from elected officials and celebrities has been overwhelming, and I am proud that so many are taking a collective stand against bullying and intimidation. My experience and that of many, many others demonstrate that it does, indeed, get better over time.
Yet for many of our youth who are victims of bullying, it will only get better if the rest of us play our part. In Vermont, state government has played a positive role in addressing bullying and establishing consequences for those who engage in it. Whether you are working at the local, state, or national levels, your voice matters, and you can take a stand by advocating for measures that address bullying in your community.
Given my experiences as a child, I have been asked what message I would send to young people who are facing bullying and harassment. I tell them to remember that the pain they feel for being harassed because of their race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation will make them stronger, more compassionate, and more effective as advocates for a brighter future for people like them in the future.
For the vast majority of those experiencing bullying, it will get better -- but we all have a role to play in ensuring that they never go through this experience in the first place.