Changing Michigan Anti-Bullying Law

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Club Spiral, a gay bar located in Lansing's Old Town

by: Alex Yavaraski
Old Town Times Staff Writer

Michigan Republicans dropped the controversial amendment on “religious speech” from the new anti-bullying law presented to Governor Rick Snyder to be signed on Dec. 6, 2011, because of pressure from the Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual and Transgender community and others concerned about its potential impact on LGBT students. Lansing’s Old Town is recognized as an LGBT-friendly community, and representatives from the business community spoke out about the problems with the amendment that would have allowed students to criticize fellow students sexual orientation if they did so out of “religious belief/moral conviction.”

On Nov. 29, 2011, House Bill 4163 passed the senate by a vote of 35-2.  Before “religious speech” was dropped from the bill, Emily Dievendorf, Director of Policy at Equality Michigan, released a statement that said,   “After over a decade of political delays, the legislature has finally moved a weak version of the anti-bullying bill that does not enumerate the reasons that kids are most often targeted and doesn’t have statewide reporting requirements.”  Dievendorf was not the only one in favor of dropping religious speech.

When Liz Deatrick, assistant manager of club Spiral, was asked about her thoughts on the purposed bill, she said, “It’s rude, who is to determine what is religious bullying. Bullying is bullying and it should not be allowed at all.”  Spiral which is a gay bar located in the Old Town community has not had many cases of anti-gay discrimination.  “We don’t allow it,” said Deatrick.

“I just recently moved into Old Town and before I moved into Old Town I noticed every once in awhile you’ll see people drive through with vehicles and they’ll make derogatory comments through the car, you know anti-gay slurs and what not,” said Kyle Buchanan, a regular at the Esquire bar in Old Town.  “I think to stop bullying, the first place it needs to take place is with the way children are raised.  If we can do something about the way children are raised and instill it in them at a young age about violence and what violence does.” said Buchanan.

“I myself was kicked out my school because of the fact that I was gay,” Buchanan said. “The school felt that it would be easier to remove me from the school as a means to protect me rather than dealing with the fact that bullying was going on. I think that schools really do need to implement a zero tolerance policy when it comes to LGBT kids.”

“I actually was a victim of two quote-unquote skinheads who decided to seek out a gay person and assaulted me by striking me in the back of my head with a golf club,” said Buchanan. “Literally out of nowhere, I was literally just walking to my car.”

“The one thing I was surprised by was the reaction of the police responding to the situation.  It wasn’t responded to as an emergency.  Both of the guys got off because all they had was circumstantial evidence against them and it was an easy way for them to get off.  I literally live everyday worrying or hoping that I don’t run into these guys again and what they might try to attempt to do to me again,” said Buchanan.  “The one thing this bullying law needs is zero tolerance.”

“Today we won one for the children of Michigan,” said Kevin Epling, father of Matt Epling, the young man for whom the bill was named.

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