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Advocates are urging state leaders to act on legislation which would help protect gay students from bullying in Ohio's schools.

House Bill 208 would add sexual orientation, gender identity and other enumerated protections to Ohio's anti-bullying law.

Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio, says a recent videotaped attack of a gay Chillicothe teen in a classroom shows that these incidents are becoming more common.

"If you are an openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender student in a public high school in Ohio, the chances are very good that you've experienced at least some bullying and the chances are fairly high that you've experienced pervasive bullying."

Having specific categories such as sexual orientation added to the current law, Mullen says, sends a strong message to teachers and administrators about how they should handle bullying and harassment.

"Oftentimes teachers don't know that they're supposed to intervene when they hear something that is an anti-gay epithet. In addition, sometimes teachers feel like they want to intervene, but they don't think that the policy is specific enough or strong enough to back them up."

While the bill won't stop bullying, Mullen says, it will at least make clear what behavior goes against school policy and what is not considered acceptable.

"We shouldn't have students going to school in Ohio feeling unsafe. And the feeling of lack of safety is not just something that affects the individual student, but affects the entire learning environment, and that's why it's so important for us to address."

Ohio's current policies on bullying are too broad, Mullen says, and don't contain any enforcement mechanism. The bill, introduced earlier this year, is in committee.

Meanwhile, a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Education examined 46 states with anti-bullying policies, including Ohio. It found Ohio is falling short in its efforts and needs policies against cyber-bullying, better data collection and more detailed policies and training for teachers.

The text of HB 208 is online at legislature.state.oh.us.

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