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2002 bill would order school anti-bias rules

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- A confrontation between a legislator and a group of gay and lesbian students has produced a bill that would require Florida schools to take action against those who torment homosexuals.

TALLAHASSEE -- A confrontation between a legislator and a group of gay and lesbian students has produced a bill that would require Florida schools to take action against those who torment homosexuals.

Last week, students lobbying for protection from discrimination got a lecture from state Rep. Allen Trovillion, R-Winter Park, when they visited his office.

The students said Trovillion told them God was going to destroy them and blamed them for the downfall of a country built on Christian principles.

House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach said she doesn't believe Trovillion was intentionally hurtful, but said his remarks were "inappropriate and insensitive."

Trovillion did not return telephone calls.

Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Miramar, announced plans Thursday to introduce a bill that would force the state's schools to create policies prohibiting bias, harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

The bill, to be introduced for the 2002 session, will be called the "Dignity for All Students Act."

The bill would also require mandatory reports to the state on such incidents that occur in schools.

Gottlieb said national surveys have determined that more than 90 percent of gay and lesbian students have been targeted with homophobic slurs.

"In most cases, studies indicate that no adult intervenes when a student is verbally or physically harassed," Gottlieb said.

"I've had friends drop out of school and face the idea of suicide. When teachers don't stop the name calling, it makes you feel less than human," said Chris Vasquez, a student at Edgewater High School in Orlando, who joined Campbell and Gottlieb at a news conference.

Eileen O'Sullivan, a St. Petersburg woman who is the mother of a gay man who is now in his 30s, said she watched him suffer harassment at school for years before realizing what was wrong.

"Now he is an adult working on his doctorate and at peace with himself," she said.

Asked about the situation, Gov. Jeb Bush said he's sure Trovillion made the comments because of deeply held Christian beliefs and "didn't say anything with meanness in his heart."

"I disagree with Trovillion," Bush said. "My interpretation of the Bible is a little different, but he's entitled to an opinion."

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