Safe-schools advocates and LGBT-equality supporters can celebrate in Minnesota: The state legislature has approved the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, a major expansion of the state’s safe schools law. The governor plans to sign the bill today.
[UPDATE: Twitter has lit up with the news that the governor has signed the Act into law. Per the Act’s own terms, some parts of the law will take effect tomorrow (Thursday), other parts in July, and other parts by the start of the next school year. The Pioneer Press provides an additional update here.]
The Act requires school districts to enact anti-bullying policies, and it defines bullying to include, among other things, intimidating and abusive conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
Opponents of the bill resorted to absurd exaggerations and lies in their effort to stop the legislation.
Representative Jim Newberger invoked fears of a totalitarian state, saying, “If this isn’t a mirror image of [the novel] ‘1984,’ I don’t know what is. The only difference is George Orwell was off by 30 years.”
A “mirror image”? The “only difference”? Really?
Orwell’s 1984 depicts a future where the government engages in perpetual war and attempts to control virtually every aspect of citizens’ lives, including their private thoughts. If Representative Newberger cannot spot any differences between the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act—which addresses only the mistreatment of schoolchildren entrusted to the state’s care—and Orwell’s horrifying dystopia, then perhaps Representative Newberger should try re-reading Orwell’s book, the new Minnesota legislation he opposes, or both. (Incidentally, this is hardly the first time opponents of anti-bullying laws have drawn ridiculous comparisons to Orwell’s novel.)
Other opponents raised fears about sexuality education, which the bill doesn’t address. Representative Glenn Gruenhagen worried (or purported to worry) about students’ being exposed to “filthy, perverted information.” [Additional Update: David Bash has this report about additional disturbing comments from Rep. Gruenhagen.]
Opponents also claimed, as anti-LGBT activists typically do, that the bill would grant special protections to particular students or groups. But this is false. The legislation protects all students from intimidating, threatening and abusive conduct, including but not limited to bullying based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
In the end, the misinformation campaign failed, and the bill passed the state House 69-63. The state’s Senate approved the bill 36-31 last week, so it now goes to the governor for his signature.