The state of Illinois already enumerates bullying protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but a new bill, HB 5290, would strengthen the laws to require that all schools maintain a bullying prevention policy. Such a policy would publicly define bullying for each district, lay out procedures for reporting and investigating incidents, and implement trainings, services, and interventions to help promote a positive climate. But this week, the Illinois Senate rejected the bill, heeding concerns from a local hate group that the bill was too pro-gay.
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R) appears to be the leading opponent of the bill, but his talking points parrot the Illinois Family Institute, a fringe spin-off of the American Family Association that has been declared an anti-gay hate group in its own right. McCarter and the IFI insist that the bill should include an “opt-out” provision for any students who don’t want their anti-gay religious beliefs challenged with basic knowledge about the nature of sexual orientation:
MCCARTER: There are anti-bullying programs that have an agenda, to only protect one class of individuals. Some of these programs are very good. They indeed encourage kids not to bully. But there are programs throughout the United States, used in some high schools and universities, that really have just a pro-homosexual agenda, and nothing but that.
McCarter seems to believe that this policy would be a step toward mandating programs about homosexuality, though nothing in its text lends itself to this claim. Reports even suggest that the only reason the bill has been opposed is because its chief House sponsor, Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), is openly gay and because LGBT groups like Equality Illinois have endorsed it. HB 5290 is a simple opportunity to make sure schools actually implement anti-bullying efforts, but conservatives like McCarter seem overly concerned that young people might actually learn that gay kids deserve to be treated with respect.
Though the measure failed by one vote on Tuesday, it could still pass if called for another vote in the coming week. Twelve senators voted “present” and some supporters were absent, so the bill is not dead yet.
The Christian Broadcasting Network covered the bill, featuring a comment from the IFI’s Laurie Higgins calling the proposed interventions “indoctrination sessions on homosexuality”: