Students Rally at Capitol for Anti-Bullying Legislation

Posted at: 03/03/2014 10:49 PM
Updated at: 03/03/2014 11:31 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 News) -- Minnesota’s current anti-bullying law is considered by some to be one of the weakest in the nation at only 37 words. After several setbacks, a gay rights group is giving a push to strengthen it new life.

Hundreds of high school students gathered at the capitol in support of a new bill that could change bullying laws in the state. It was organized by OutFront Minnesota, one of the driving forces behind last year's gay marriage bill. We talked with a Rochester student, whose experience with bullying has her pushing for this legislation.

"There was a boy in middle school and everyday he called me fat,” said Kristian Kennedy, now a junior at Mayo High School. "I went to the teacher and they just kind of ignored it and then eventually I developed anorexia.”

Anorexia is something she's battled with for a long time, but as an openly gay student, Kristian says the LGBT community is one group being bullied in school.

"I have a friend that was held down and Axe was sprayed on him because he was gay,” Kennedy said. “We've had a lot of suicides in the last couple years here in Minnesota.”

One that hits close to home is the death of 17-year-old Jay 'Corey' Jones. He was bullied for being openly and proudly gay, friends say the harassment took its toll and may have led to suicide.

"It makes me really angry,” said Kennedy.

That's why Kristian and hundreds of other students across the state rallied at the capitol Monday in support of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. The group hopes the bill will clarify what bullying looks like in schools, and give a more proactive approach for punishment.

"We want programs from bullies to go to, to learn how to manage their own problems,” said Kennedy.

There are groups against this anti-bullying bill. Some schools oppose it saying it may be too hard to enforce, others say it only protects certain groups.

"There's some opposition coming from folks who have a pretty hard line religious point of view who think this might be a benefit to only gay kids, and that's just simply not true, this is a bill that protects all kids,” said Senator Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the bill.

Kristian told her story to local legislators Monday. She says she's now learned to stand up for herself against bullies. “A lot of people can't do that though, that's kind of why I’m doing this, for the people who can't yet,” said Kennedy.

This proposed legislation will be a topic at the Rochester Public School board meeting Tuesday. Kristian and other students will be sharing their stories of bullying and why they think a stronger law is so important.