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Mass. Approves Bill Outlawing Bias Against Gay Students

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The Massachusetts Senate last week passed a bill outlawing discrimination against gay and lesbian students in the public schools.

The Senate action cleared the last major obstacle to enactment of the bill, which had already passed the House.

Gov. William F. Weld was expected to sign the measure, which will make Massachusetts the first state to attempt by statute to safeguard students from harassment and abuse as a result of their sexual orientation.

Supporters of the bill credited lobbying by hundreds of students from all over the state for tipping the balance in the Senate, where such legislation had been stalled for three years.

Both heterosexual and homosexual students wrote letters, talked to lawmakers, and demonstrated outside the Statehouse in Boston in hopes of rescuing legislation that for a long time had seemed doomed.

"The students have been the driving force in passage of this [bill],'' said David LaFontaine, the chairman of a commission convened by Governor Weld to study and make recommendations about gay and lesbian adolescents.

"This should do wonders for their self-esteem,'' Mr. LaFontaine added.

In its report last winter, the commission found that homosexual teenagers were more likely to attempt suicide and to drop out of high school. (See Education Week, March, 10, 1993.)

Citing evidence that gay and lesbian students frequently meet with harassment and violence in the schools, the commission also found that schools were "unsafe climates'' for gay youths and denied them equal educational opportunities.

Senate Opposition

The House passed the anti-discrimination measure in October.

In the Senate, however, the legislation seemed likely to again die in committee.

The Democratic leadership,particularly President of the Senate William M. Bulger, opposed the bill.

Critics of the measure, such as the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, warned that the proposed ban on discrimination could lead to state endorsement of homosexuality as a lifestyle.

But Mr. LaFontaine said the student lobbying effort eased the bill out of committee and onto the floor, where it won by voice vote.

Under the measure, students who think they have been a victim of discrimination because of their sexual orientation will be able to file lawsuits.

Mr. LaFontaine said students active in the issue now will be trained in the fundamentals of the law. They will then go back to their schools to explain to other students what it means.

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