On January 2nd, 1994, In Newsweekly covered the passage of a law I worked on which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes of students in Massachusetts public schools.
From In Newsweekly, Volume III, Issue 18, January 2, 1994,
Students celebrate passage of new rights law, by Ed Boyce:
About 100 gay, lesbian, and straight high school students and adult supporters gathered in Nurse’s Hall in the State House last Tuesday, December 21, to celebrate the passage of the Gay and Lesbian Student Right Bill and held a “youth speakout” about the new law’s significance. Preceding the event, Governor William Weld held a private meeting with several students where he performed a ceremonial signing of several copies of the landmark legislation which he officially signed two weeks previously.
Lt. Governor Paul Cellucci joined students downstairs at the larger celebration and told students that the new law is one of a number of steps the Weld/Cellucci administration plans for improving the educational and social climate for all students in Massachusetts schools.
“Governor Weld and I have just filed a number of bills to free our schools of violence,” said Cellucci. “We’re also freeing our schools of hate.”
“[The Gay and Lesbian Student Rights law] sends a strong message that discrimination against any student, including gays and lesbians, will not be tolerated in any school in the Commonwealth.”
The Event was introduced by Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth Chair, David LaFontaine, but thereafter embraced by several of the student organizers who had worked to get the legislation passed.
Senator Havern [D-Arlington] and Representative Byron Rushing [D-Boston], the bill’s chief sponsors, made the profusion of lobbying and organizing activity the core of their remarks to students.
“We know that this small bill makes a big difference to a group of young people who, until now, had no reason to believe that anyone cared about their well-being,” said Havern.
“What you did by adding ‘sexual orientation’ to the [public schools civil rights statues] was to make an overt statement of your understanding of the respect and rights deserved by everybody,” said Rushing. “You said that because you are a human being and because you are here, you have inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by anybody. This legislature did not give you rights. You got those rights when you were born. This legislation says only that no one can take away those rights.
“It was your organizing and your perseverance, and it was your clear, logical arguments that got this bill passed and you should all feel great pride in your accomplishments,” said Rushing.
Following speeches by other politicians, it was the students’ turn to speak out. The event was opened to any student who wished to come up to the microphone and talk about what the new law meant to them personally.
Belmont High School student and Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, [Marsian] De Lellis said that the new law has given him clout when dealing with his high school’s administration.
“Our principal had agreed to change the discrimination clause in our school and we’re circulating the recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to the school board,” said De Lellis
Jamie Resnick, representing the State-Wide Student Advisory Council, an umbrella organization for student government groups which initiated the push for the bill three years ago, said that he hopes the successful passage of the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law heralds a resurgence in student activism.
“The bill is a turning point for students as a whole,” said Resnick. “It shows that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. This bill is a reminder of the good things that come out of hard work.”
Chris Hannon, a high school student who left Boston College High School after being harassed, including receiving a death threat, by other students for being gay, told the audience that the passage of the law gave him a sense of pride and justice.
“When I first spoke to you, I spoke to you as a victim,” said Hannon. “But we passed the bill, and I’m not a victim anymore.”