Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A stand-up Guy.

I try to keep up with bills in the NC general assembly that affect adolescent health and well being. Mind you, that's no small feat, because the process of a bill becoming a law is long, drawn-out, and pretty darn opaque.

This session there have been two bills that especially caught my interest: a sex ed bill and an anti-bullying bill. We can talk about the sex ed bill later. There's a lot to say, and it's still not resolved.

Senate Bill 526, which has one of the longest titles (caution: PDF)I've ever seen, passed the House yesterday, and is going to the governor's desk today to be signed. Opponents of the bill were against the inclusion of enumerated categories to point out the youth that are typically most at risk of being bullied. Well, to be more truthful, they were opposed to the fact that the bill included the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The length of the title actually has a strategic purpose; no amendment can be filed that would change the core of the content in the title or some such. They use different language than what I did, but that's the basic point. So for a bill titled "Increase Taxes for alcohol served in restaurants," for example, you can't have an amendment that would increase taxes on both restaurant sales as well as grocery store sales. So with this bill, there could be no amendment taking out the enumerated categories. Make sense?

The real point of me writing about this is to praise a freshman legislator who represents a rural area and who was willing to take a risk voting for this bill and urging others to. The words he spoke to the house when the bill was undergoing debate moved me to tears.

I think it's important to read in context, so I've posted below the entire speech he made, as published by a local news outlet.

From The Independent Weekly Triangulator Blog:

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I got a letter from a constituent that I’d like to read a little bit about tonight in this forum. She wrote, I am the mother of a son with autism. I truly cannot comprehend the reluctance of any legislator to pass this bill. Bullies do exist, and they make life miserable for those unable to defend themselves. In a civilized society, why do we allow this?

My son is bright but different. Eccentric some would say. Unfortunately, this difference can be the catalyst for teasing and taunting, sometimes in a subtle form, and sometimes in more flagrant acts involving an emotional and physical violation. I know all too well that children can be cruel. It’s up to the adults in their lives to teach them acceptance and tolerance. Students learn more than academics in school, and part of their education should include how to treat others with respect and dignity and look to peers for support, not how to dodge a fist.

We can begin the process of tolerance tonight by taking a stand against bullying for any reason. I know some of you in this chamber have been having these culture wars for many years. This bill is not about that. At least it shouldn’t be, and it’s not for me. Instead, it’s personal, and I apologize for that.
Friends, God didn’t make us all exactly alike. Sometimes these perceived differences lead to bullying. Maybe the victim is a girl in middle school who is larger than her male counterparts, and likes sports, and is called a tomboy – or worse. Maybe it’s a disabled child with autism who’s called freak, weirdo, or even much worse names and is physically assaulted at school. Maybe it’s your child, your grandchild, your neice or nephew.

Or maybe the victim is a 10-year old little boy who just finished the 5th grade. Maybe he’s real small for his age, the smallest in his class. Maybe he doesn’t like contact sports, but instead loves to dance and sing and perform in the school production. He’s a natural. Maybe he’s a fan of soft colors and likes to wear pink, like his dad. Maybe he’s blessed to have his mother’s good looks and beautiful skin and soft facial features. Maybe he likes to hang out with girls because he’s not rough enough for the boys.
Maybe because of all these things, he’s called sissy boy, gay, homo or even worse.

Perhaps his father is absolutely terrified of what middle school and high school will have in store for such a wonderful little boy. Maybe his parents or his teachers tried to teach him not to act a certain way or to talk about certain interests in front of other boys because it just leads to more bullying. You might say that they encourage him to hide his true personality. And why? Shouldn’t he be free to be himself? He’s not hurting anyone. He should be free to be what God made him. He’s 10. He doesn’t know what he is.

This bill simply says that no child should be bullied even if they are perceived to be poor, or disabled or maybe different. This bill’s about protecting kids; at least, it is for me. If this bill prevents one suicide, or one school violence episode, then it’s a success. If this bill is passed, then it will be a step forward for protecting children – maybe even one close to you.

If you’re going to vote no against this bill, at least be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it.

I’m going to count my vote as yes. And when my daughter and I, who’s serving as page this week, go out to eat and go home tonight, I’m going to go see her little brother, who’ll be in bed asleep. I’m going to lean across that bed and kiss my 10-year old goodnight. And I’m going to know that I voted the right way, the way to protect him and other children like him. And if that costs me my seat in this chamber, then so be it.

Amazing, isn't it?