The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:
“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”
Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:
“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”
The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:
Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.
Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.