Eric Anderson remembers how being bullied led him to struggling in high school as he shifted between peer groups looking for support from fellow students, all the while getting little to no help from his teachers.
The young Boise gay man – a past Pride Foundation scholarship applicant and chair of Boise LGBTQ youth group, Lion’s Pride Cubs, a Pride Foundation 2010 grantee – told his story to the Idaho Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee March 7, one of about 80 people in attendance at a public hearing to hear testimony on Idaho’s latest attempt to pass an anti-bullying bill in the state.
After nearly two hours of testimony and debate, the committee voted 5 to 4 to send the bill to amending order on the Senate floor to make changes to the bill. Concerns were raised about the bill’s constitutionality specifically related to protecting students’ First Amendment rights of free speech and language related to punishment for cyber bullying, as well as to costs associated with educator training. Read more about the hearing here and the full text of the original bill here.
For Anderson, who graduated from Borah High School in Boise in 2009, the importance of an anti-bullying bill in Idaho comes down to education and protection.
“This bill will give the tools to educators to enforce anti-bullying,” he said, adding that he, too, started bullying others himself and was led to believe it was OK. “I am ashamed that I became a bully. This bill will make schools more safe environments.”
Most of the public testimony was in favor of the bill’s passage. One retired teacher told a particularly moving story about witnessing a student being constantly bullied and even being shoved into a locker by fellow students. She did nothing to intervene, she said, and that student later committed suicide. “I still have to live with that every day.”
Jeni Griffin of Idaho Falls talked about the loss of her son to suicide and said that bullying played a part in her son’s depression. “He was bullied with a teacher standing right there who did nothing,” she said. “Some think bullying is a rite of passage. I disagree. Bullying is wrong.”
Kim Kane, former director of the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho, told the committee that suicide is the second-largest cause of death among Idaho youth, and that bullying is a contributing factor.
“This is a public safety issue,” Kane said. “Parents have the right to know that their children are safe at school.”
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.