Teen victims of dating violence would receive more protection under a bill passed by the state House of Representatives and now under consideration by a state Senate committee – but only if they are dating somebody of the opposite sex.
Local gay rights advocates say teens in same-sex relationships should receive the same protection from violence.
“It is disappointing people can’t see past labels,” said Joyce Harrison, founder of the Spartanburg chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). “They are all our children and deserve protection.”
More than one in six high school students reported being hit, slapped or hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year, according to the 2009 South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 1999, one in eight high school students reported being the victim of dating violence.
Domestic abuse occurs in lesbian and gay relationships at the same percentage as heterosexual relationships, said Tamera Tetter, SC Pride Movement president.
“Most South Carolina residents want everyone to be protected,” she said. “Nobody should have to suffer dating or domestic violence.”
The bill would require schools to develop teen dating violence prevention policies that outline reporting procedures, guidelines for responding to at school incidents of dating violence and disciplinary procedures.
“At school” means in a classroom, on or immediately adjacent to school premises, on a school bus, at a bus stop or at a school-sponsored activity or event whether or not it occurs on school grounds.
The bill requires schools to publish the policy in his school and district handbooks.
The House passed the bill last week but not before adding a provision saying dating partners must be heterosexual.
The bill was sent to the Senate education committee for its consideration.
One senator has threatened to stall the legislation if the heterosexual provision remains.
Tetter said several gay rights organizations are mounting email, telephone and letter-writing campaigns to try to get the provision removed.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the provision, but I was definitely disappointed it was added to the bill,” Tetter said. “In some areas, we haven’t been as progressive as we need to be in this state.”
Less than a week after the House approved the amended bill, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House which would prohibit discrimination against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation.
“Every student has the right to an education free from harassment and violence,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who introduced the bill.