ST. PAUL — Students from throughout Minnesota gathered Monday at the State Capitol to show their support for legislation to prevent bullying in schools.
Many spoke during an afternoon rally and shared stories about being bullied. They also called on lawmakers to take action this session to make sure other students aren't victimized.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis would spell out some of the reasons students might be the target of bullies, ranging from race and religion to physical appearance and sexual orientation. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to take up the measure Thursday.
But social conservatives and Republican legislators are wary of the bill, which gay and lesbian advocacy groups are leading the push for.
At the rally, Elise Coffin, a senior at Duluth East High School, told the crowd that she has been bullied for being a lesbian.
"This bill needs to be passed because we can't afford to have kids across our state continue to show up to school in fear," she said. "We need to stand up for respect. We need to stand up for equality and we need to stand up for what's right and pass this bill."
Dibble, the chief author of the bill, said every student deserves to be safe and supported in school, no matter where they live.
"We need clear definitions to know what we're talking about," Dibble said. "We need protections for all students, training and resources for the adults in the buildings, guidelines for best practices and help for schools."
Autumn Leva, director of legislative affairs and communications for the Minnesota Family Council, said the bill's definition of bullying is too broad.
"It could encompass a student even expressing some sort of political or religious belief that is even just offensive to another student," Leva said. "Well, we'd be offending each other all day long through expressions of belief, and I don't think that's what bullying is. We need to be very careful in how we define that issue."