It's a fact: Colorado schools are hostile environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) young people.
Nine out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment in school. Thirty percent of LGBT students missed a day of class in the last month because they were too scared to attend. Three out of five LGBT students report being physically harassed or assaulted.
But change is on the way.
On Friday, May 13, I watched as Governor John Hickenlooper signed HB-1254, a law aimed at reducing bullying in schools.
This new law clearly defines bullying, requires school districts to enact anti-bullying policies, and explicitly protects LGBT young people -- the most vulnerable youth in our schools.
The governor's bill signing at Lakewood High School was a heartwarming moment -- a moment that LGBT young people can look back on for hope when they're experiencing relentless taunting and wondering if anyone cares about them.
As the communications manager of a statewide LGBT advocacy organization, I also recognized the signing as a historic moment. This is the first time a piece of legislation protecting LGBT Coloradans has passed in the state with Republicans controlling one of the chambers of the legislature. For the first time in Colorado, both Democrats and Republicans courageously stood up for LGBT youth.
This bipartisan group of legislators stood up for LGBT young people because they heard heartbreaking stories from students across the state who have experienced name-calling, isolation, vandalism, harassment, and violence.
These legislators knew they could no longer sit back while LGBT youth were tormented. We can't either. It's our responsibility as adults to improve the safety of our schools by effectively implementing HB-1254 throughout the state.
As the new law requires each school district to enact their own anti-bullying policy, I want to urge districts across the state to pass policies that explicitly protect LGBT young people.
Studies have shown that students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity felt safer than students at schools with a general policy or no policy. In fact, in schools with specific protections for them, LGBT students heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization, and were more likely to report that staff intervened when they witnessed bullying.
I call on school board members to stand up for LGBT students as our legislators have done. I call on them to recognize the critical problem of bullying, harassment, and violence in our schools and take immediate action to address it through the passage of comprehensive, inclusive anti-bullying policies. I call on them to fulfill our responsibility as adults -- to make schools safe for every child who sits in our classrooms or walks through our halls.