During the last couple of years, Louisiana progressives have been fighting for the passage of an anti-bullying bill, which would better protect our children against harassment, intimidation, and bigotry in the classroom. This should be an easy issue. After all, with the exception of a commenter on The Town Talk‘s website who thinks it’s “sissified” for the government to even consider adopting anti-bullying legislation, most of us would likely agree that it’s vitally important for us to ensure that our school system is as safe as possible, that our children can receive a decent education free from oppression, and that we are obligated to prevent, to the best of our collective abilities and to the fullest extent of the law, the possibility that any child would feel compelled to commit suicide or harm themselves in any way as a result of things said or done to them in school.
Indeed, so far, twenty-two states have already adopted similar legislation, including our neighbors in Arkansas. But, fortunately for Arkansans, they don’t have to contend with a man like Gene Mills, an organization like the Louisiana Family Forum, or a governor who is all-too-willing to kowtow to the intransigent demands of a small but powerful group of radical right wing fundamentalists.
(Governor Bobby Jindal being “prayed” on by Mr. Gene Mills in the privacy of their own made-for-TV special)
“Bullying” is a word we primarily apply when children are involved. When it involves adults, we call it assault, and if you’re found guilty of assault, it’s likely that you may spend time behind bars. And if you assault someone specifically because of their ethnicity, disability, religion, or sexual orientation, in most states, your punishment will be even more severe; it would qualify as a hate crime.
Understandably, we treat children differently; we transpose the word “bullying.” But if the rash of recent suicides by bullied children proves anything, it’s that bullying is not merely some rite of passage that we must all endure; it’s not simply a part of being a kid.
Throughout the last two years, Gene Mills, the chief lobbyist and President of the tax-exempt Louisiana Family Forum, has fought vociferously against the passage of anti-bullying bills, with the implicit support of Governor Bobby Jindal and his administration. Mr. Mills (he refers to himself as a Reverend, but until he fully discloses his organization’s finances, I see no reason to bestow him with any honorarium) has opposed the legislation because it, among other things, protects children from bullying on the basis of their sexual orientation. And this, according to Mr. Mills, who fashions himself as a Christian leader, is merely an attempt at advancing the “gay agenda.”
I don’t have much patience for charlatans or bigots or people who promote themselves as religious leaders in order to justify their discriminatory beliefs. Mr. Mills, with the assistance of State Senator Rick Ward, is now authoring his own anti-bullying bill, which appears to be nothing more than a toothless, meaningless recapitulation of existing law designed to help Mr. Mills and his organization reclaim a public relations war, and which, unsurprisingly, has the endorsement of Governor Bobby Jindal. Governor Jindal’s support is telling; it reveals, among other things, how much power Gene Mills and the Louisiana Family Forum have over him and his agenda. Just last month, Jindal’s aide, Russell Armstrong (who completely embarrassed himself), argued against the anti-bullying bill on behalf of his administration, suggesting that there was no reason to change existing law.
Mr. Armstrong, on behalf of Governor Jindal, said that the Jindal administration doesn’t “believe in passing legislation for the sake of passing legislation.” Now, we know that is simply not true. Russell Armstrong and Bobby Jindal were opposed to the anti-bullying bill for the same reason Gene Mills was opposed to it: The bill mentioned, among many other things, the need to prevent bullying (read: assault) against children on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The (Louisiana Senate) panel refused to back a second bill by Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, that would spell out that harassment and bullying would not be allowed because of a person’s characteristics, including race, ancestry, religion, physical or intellectual disability, mental illness, language ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and political ideas. Such a list has been repeatedly opposed by the conservative Louisiana Family Forum and religious groups as introducing sexual politics into the classroom and promoting a “gay agenda” in schools.
Gene Mills, head of the family forum, helped write Ward’s bill, without a list of characteristics.
“This is a careful attempt to balance the rights of children with the duties of adults,” Mills said.
Can we be honest with one another here? Governor Jindal, Gene Mills, and the Louisiana Family Forum do not object to a bill that would prohibit bullying against a child because of their race, ancestry, religion, physical or intellectual disability, mental illness, language ability, or political ideas. They have no problem with that; it’s fair. Their issue is a bill that would prohibit bullying on the basis of a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In their view, apparently, the prohibition against such bullying would result in the introduction of “sexual politics” (a term I have never heard until now) and the promotion of the “gay agenda.” In Governor Jindal’s and Gene Mills’s world, the government can prevent the introduction of “sexual politics” (again, wow, what a turn of phrase) and the advancement of the “gay agenda” by ensuring that kids aren’t singled out for bullying other kids because of their sexual orientation. To them, it’s more important to protect the right of an ignorant and hateful bully to chastise and ridicule someone for being gay (because, you know, Jesus gave them special permission to be sanctimonious jerks) than it is to protect the safety and dignity of the children most vulnerable to attack and most susceptible to depression and suicide.
Without question, the overwhelming majority of Louisianans would support legislation that protects our children against bullying. I don’t know what Governor Jindal and Mr. Mills are scared of. Here is Governor Jindal, just yesterday, saying that he doesn’t believe in discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation:
Still, while Governor Jindal auditions in front of the country for Vice President, back in Louisiana, he continues to embrace Gene Mills and the divisive, destructive, and hypocritical agenda of the Louisiana Family Forum. And to be clear, I hope Governor Romney selects Governor Jindal, as David Frum implored him to do earlier this week, because when all is said and done, Jeremiah Wright has nothing on Gene Mills.