Usual suspects out in opposition to New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights

New Jersey is very close to passing what may be the most comprehensive bullying prevention law in the nation. In the works, for about a year, the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” would amend current law and establish a “Week of Respect” as well as require districts to keep track of bullying incidents and provide penalties for school staff who ignore bullying. 

Sadly, the New Jersey Family Policy Council has expressed opposition to the bill because it retains a list of characteristics often associated with bullying behaviors. More precisely, New Jersey law prohibits bullying based on sexual orientation. In this Christian Post article, NJFPC staffer and PFOX board member Greg Quinlan elaborates:

Greg Quinlan of family advocacy group New Jersey Family Policy Council praised the effort, proclaiming, “We need to put a culture of dignity and respect in schools.”

But he lamented that the bill has some holes that may limit its effectiveness. Quinlan, a director of government affairs for NJFPC’s legislative arm, Family First, said the bill is “segregated” to prevent and treat bullying of particular groups.

The bill enumerates classifications such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity and expression as it relates to homosexuality, and mental, physical and sensory disability as characteristics that generally cause bullying, harassment and/ or intimidation.

Quinlan pointed out, “Obesity is not on the list. Ex-gays like myself are not on the list.”

He stressed that “bullying is bullying” and all forms of bullying should be recognized in the bill language.

Staff of the bill sponsors pointed out that the detailed list of bullied characteristics is simply stated as examples. The bill also carries catch all language which includes “any other distinguishing characteristics.”

Nevertheless, Quinlan is worried that the bill will censure teachers and students from exercising their first amendment rights to express their beliefs for fear that it may lead to disciplinary action. He noted that a teacher who might say, “There is no gay gene,” may be written up as a expressing a bullying comment. Also, expressions of faith may be construed as excluding or berating other faiths.

You can read the bill here (A-3466). The list of characteristics are reproduced below. Note that the discrepancy between the list in NJ law and what Quinlan describes in the article. Homosexuality is not mentioned anywhere in law or A-3466. Bracketed words will not be kept in law; underlined words are what is added by A-3466.

“Harassment, intimidation or bullying” means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory [handicap] disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function or on a school bus and that:

a. a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage to his property; [or]

b. has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students in such a way as to cause [substantial] disruption in, or [substantial] interference with, the orderly operation of the school;

c. creates a hostile environment at school for the student; or

d. infringes on the rights of the student at school.

First, let’s understand that this list is already in NJ law. Second and in contrast to what Quinlan says, all students are covered by this list. On point, obesity would be included in either the section on “physical disability” or via “any other distinguishing characteristic.” Ex-gay is on the list via sexual orientation or even religion, since ex-gay most often means behaviorally resisting same-sex desire for religious reasons. 

I have little sympathy for his concerns over first amendment rights to say “there is no gay gene.” Nothing in this bill removes first amendment rights to say a true thing. Now, if a teacher or staffer says to a student, “there is no gay gene, therefore, you can and should change your sexual orientation,” this would be a different matter. One, such a statement would not be based in fact. Two, it could be imposing a religious view on a student and three, it may indeed create a hostile environment. Therefore such a statement would be met with heightened scrutiny.

It seems to come back to the problem some Christians have when addressing anti-gay bullying — they want to make sure they maintain the right to speak disapproval of homosexuality. That right is not eliminated by this  bill. However, to me, this right is of lesser importance than the need for kids to have a safe place to go to school.

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  • Lynn David

    Yeah, I guess Quinlan would be proudest most of the Palin household.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Quinlan is worried that the bill will censure teachers and students from exercising their first amendment rights to express their beliefs for fear that it may lead to disciplinary action.

    Quinlan is quite right. Teachers and students who wish to express beliefs that are bullying in nature or are designed to hurt others will face disciplinary action.

    Where we differ, is that he thinks this is a bad thing.

    Also, expressions of faith may be construed as excluding or berating other faiths.

    Again, he see this as bad. But those who have a faith other than that of their teacher may see another perspective.

    I believe in religious freedom, but that does not extend to giving a teacher is Mormon or Pagan or Hare Krishna the freedom to “express their faith” in the classroom.

    Quinlan sees this as an imposition. But I guess it all comes down to who you empathize with. I empathize with those who are bullied. Quinlan empathizes with another party.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    I have little sympathy for his concerns over first amendment rights to say “there is no gay gene.” Nothing in this bill removes first amendment rights to say a true thing.

    Of course, I would hope that such statements would not be welcomed in school, as they are not accurate. “There is no gay gene” should be treated in the schoolhouse the same as “African-Americans are genetically inclined to make better musicians,” an opinion not based in science.

    Whether there is one specific gene that significantly contributes to the development of sexual orientation (i.e. a “gay gene”) or several genes that work in conjunction is not at this time known. We know that genetics plays a part in the orientation of at least some gay men, but we can’t say much beyond that.

    And to imply that genetics is not a part (that is to claim that there is “no gay gene”) is dishonest. I would hope that schools would discourage teachers from being dishonest.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    First paragraph of last comment should be in quotation marks.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Not exactly sure what you are saying Timothy.

    The statement in isolation: “There is no gay gene” seems to be an accurate statement. I know of no one who claims there is one gene that codes for sexual orientation. By this, most people mean, homosexuality is not exclusively genetic.

    I can see however, how some non-scientists could use it as a code for homosexuality is entirely environmental, which also seems unlikely. There seem to be some pre-natal factors which operate and some combination of genes probably are involved.

    In any case, the question about the statement would be addressed by what was said before and after the statement. My point was to make clear that science could be quoted even if seems inconvenient for one side or another of the culture war. The causes of homosexuality have nothing to do with fair, unbiased and equal treatment of students. Quinlan’s “concern” is a red herring.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    By this, most people mean, homosexuality is not exclusively genetic.

    I disagree.

    Whenever I’ve encountered “There is no gay gene”, it has been used in such a way as to declare that homosexuality is in no way genetic or, even, biological.

    For example, NARTH’s Dean Byrd in WND: “The activist researchers themselves have reluctantly reached that conclusion. There is no gay gene. There is no simple biological pathway to homosexuality.”

    AFA’s OneNewsNow: The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch. An American Psychological Association publication includes an admission that there’s no homosexual “gene” — meaning it’s not likely that homosexuals are born that way.

    And this from ApologeticsPress in an article about the “gay gene”: Skin color and other genetic traits can be traced through inheritance patterns and simple Mendelian genetics. Homosexuals are identified not by a trait or a gene, but rather by their actions. Without the action, they would be indistinguishable from all other people. It is only when they alter their behavior that they become a group that is recognized as being different.”

    I did find a British discussion that was more nuanced and consistent with your take. And the statement is, in its exact wording, possibly true (though we do not at present know it to be true).

    There is no IDENTIFIED gay gene. And it’s my opinion (for what that’s worth) that we are not likely to identify a single gene that determines sexual orientation. But we cannot state with certainty that there is no “gay gene”, nor that we will not find a specific gene that is essential to or instrumental in determining sexual orientation.

  • http://exgaywatch.com David Roberts

    Ex-gays like myself are not on the list.”Ex-gays like myself are not on the list.”

    Sure you are Greg, just check under the explanation of “bully” — I’m sure it’s there.

  • Jayhuck

    There is no IDENTIFIED gay gene. And it’s my opinion (for what that’s worth) that we are not likely to identify a single gene that determines sexual orientation.

    There will never be a single gene responsible for any type of behavior. There is no Straight gene either, and no one gene for that will ever be found. Perhaps that’s how expressions like this should be countered in the future.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    There will never be a single gene responsible for any type of behavior.

    Sure. But sexual orientation is not a behavior.

    What I suspect is that we will eventually find that there is a gene or number of genes that contribute to sexual orientation.

  • Jayhuck

    There will never be a single gene responsible for any type of behavior.

    Tim,

    You are correct. I should rephrase the above statement to say something like: The “natural preference” one has “in sexual partners” and its associated behaviors will never be linked to any one gene. There are most likely a number of genes that contribute to one’s sexual orientation,

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    The best summary of our current state of knowledge is in the abstract of Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35

    The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.

    My interest is mainly in the areas of Intersex and Transsexuality, vis a vis “gender identity” (which in my opinion is more properly sex identity – whether one is male, female, neither, or somewhere in-between). But sexual orientation is an unavoidable ancillary issue.

    Frankly, I find the latter issue distinctly uncomfortable to talk about. I’m really rather a prude, and it’s the only part of my peculiar change that still bothers me. I’d just about accepted that all my life I’d been asexual and mildly lesbian, and was comfortable with that, when I started finding guys kinda cute.

    It’s an instinctive thing, a matter of smell as much as anything, involuntary physical responses I’d never experienced in my life before. If I had my druthers, I’d rather be attracted to other women. For one thing, it’s safer, for another, I really, really don’t understand men.

    I’m married – to another woman – who I deeply love, and want to spend the rest of my life with. We made a child together, a boy who is my whole world, even if that did take medical intervention as my body wasn’t wholly male. But there’s just no chemistry. There never was, but while I looked male (mostly), physical intimacy was at least possible, even if I was anorgasmic. I miss that. We both do.

    But we’d rather have love without sex than sex without love, and those are our only two options. Involvement with men on either part would complicate life too much, and we love each other too much to split – even though that’s the obvious, sane and sensible course. I guess there’s nothing sensible about love – whether it’s eros or agape.

    It’s ironic that so many of the Religious Right see me as some kind of sexual pervert, a slave to lust and the pleasures of the flesh.

    No matter. As long as our boy isn’t as screwed up as I am, I’ll be happy.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    It seems to come back to the problem some Christians have when addressing anti-gay bullying — they want to make sure they maintain the right to speak disapproval of homosexuality. That right is not eliminated by this bill.

    However, to me, this right is of lesser importance than the need for kids to have a safe place to go to school.

    And that’s what makes you a heretic. I think though… that He would approve. Not sure Dr Brown would though. Maybe in time.

  • Jayhuck

    It’s an instinctive thing, a matter of smell as much as anything, involuntary physical responses I’d never experienced in my life before. If I had my druthers, I’d rather be attracted to other women. For one thing, it’s safer, for another, I really, really don’t understand men.

    I could have said the same thing, except for the men part. :) For the record, I think you’re one very together person, Zoe :)


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