Women’s Center looks to create safer Ohio schools

School violence fills the news lately and reminds the public that bullying at school no longer ends in fist fights.

Now guns are the weapons used by students victimized by taunts of their classmates.

In recognition of National Family Sexuality Education Month, 20 women gathered in Hanna Hall yesterday to discuss what is being done in Ohio to stop the violence.

Executive director of Equality Toledo Kim Welter visited the Women’s Center for the Brown Bag Luncheon presentation “Making Schools Safer: Addressing Homophobic Violence.” Equality Toledo is an organization working to promote equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Welter spoke about the Safe Schools Project being implemented by EqualityToledo, Rainbow Area Youth and the University of Toledo College of Law Legal Clinic.

Although Equality Toledo is geared toward the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, Welter stressed the project is beneficial for all students who are being harassed and the schools who are forced to deal with a bullying issue.

“If the school does nothing, they really put themselves at risk,” Welter said.

The three main components of the Safe School Project are training for all adults working with the school, forming a Gay Straight Alliance in the school and holding faculty meetings to determine which teachers are willing to be a member of Safe Space Faculty for Students.

Safe Space Faculty is a group of teachers committed to helping bullied students and stop the bullying.

The faculty is not limited to helping students being harassed based on sexual orientation but will help all students.

Cynthia Fulford, a graduate assistant at the Women’s Center, said the program will address many problems for teens.

“Bullying is a problem in America, and if we don’t address it, we’ll see more students acting out their pain. Maybe through school shootings. Maybe through other things like depression, suicide or drugs,” Fulford said.

Sociology graduate student Dani Soto said education is a good start.

“I think [homophobia in schools] is definitely a problem. I don’t think it’s being ignored, but some people just don’t know how to deal with it,” Soto said.

Welter agreed, stating some of the teachers in schools are uneducated in dealing with an issue of homosexuality among students, but sometimes have good intentions based on faith.

“They think they’re doing teens a favor by denying them the ability to organize and by insisting they change. They think they have the right to tell them these things to save their souls,” Welter said.

Beyond active programs in schools, Welter also said state legislation is a large part in helping students feel safe at school.

She said one reason the issue might not be at the forefront of legislation is that many people don’t realize it’s legal in the state of Ohio to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Welter discussed the importance of the Safe Schools bill, currently in the Education Committee of the State Senate.

The bill states that students should not bully other students, which leaves the interpretation solely up to the schools.

Welter wants the bill to specifically state what groups are protected, such as minorities, religions and disabled people among other groups.

Once that happens, she wants to see sexual orientation added.

Fulford would also like to see legislation on bullying come to fruition.

“I don’t think anybody should be hurt based on anything,” Fulford stated.

The discussion regarding homosexuality will continue at noon next Wednesday. Emily Resnick presents Catholicism ‘ Homosexuality in Hanna Hall room 107 in recognition of National Coming Out Day.