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Anti-bullying bill in jeopardy over LGBT support
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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A bill aimed at strengthening anti-bullying protections in Illinois has been postponed after Senate conservatives voted down the measure, a move believed to be a reaction from LGBT support.

Bill HB 5290, introduced by lesbian Rep. Kelly Cassidy, would bolster the state's anti-bullying code by creating model policies for schools in 2013.

The bill is not LGBT-specific. Rather, it adds to the current code, which already contains LGBT protections along with several other identity categories. The amendment would mandate education, emotional support, counseling and other community-based solutions intended to address root causes of bullying.

Cassidy said she believes the bill was voted down because some conservatives equated the bill with her own sexual orientation.

"It's not a gay bill," Cassidy said. "The bigger message is just how far the anti-gay forces will go."

Leading up to the vote, the Illinois Family Institute, an anti-gay organization, rallied against the bill, citing support from LGBT groups and Cassidy.

"All the various organizations committed to using public schools to normalize homosexuality are trying to make the case that opposition to their anti-bullying laws, policies, and programs constitutes support for bullying, and our lawmakers are falling for it," the institute wrote on its website.

The organization specifically names support from Equality Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which works with LGBT youth, as proof that the bill is the work of LGBT activists.

LGBT groups have voiced support for the bill in the recent weeks.

But Sarah Schriber, policy director for the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, points out that the bill had widespread support, including the backing of Prevent School Violence Illinois, a coalition of more than 50 groups that supported the passage of anti-bully legislation in 2010.

"On the one hand, I can't image why [it was voted down]," said Schriber. "It's such a straightforward administrative bill."

Schriber contends that opponents singled out LGBT protections from a long list of protected groups when they voted against the measure.

Cassidy contends that conservatives who had negotiated amendments to the bill went back on their word when they voted against it.

"They have attempted at every step of the way to take out protections for gay kids," she said.

But supporters say the bill is not dead yet.

Senator Heather Steans postponed a vote, saving the legislation from defeat. The bill is headed back to the General Assembly before it returns to the Senate.

Cassidy believes the bill is still likely to pass by the end of the week. It was rejected by just one vote, and two supportive Senators were not present for the vote, said Cassidy.

"But it's a weird time of year," she said. "Anything can happen."

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