The demise of an anti-bullying bill that spelled out protections in schools based in part on sexual orientation has caused a rift among some state Democrats. Dubbed the “Safe Schools Bill,” the legislation by state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, was stripped by the full House Thursday of language specific to sexual orientation when it approved an amendment by Amite Democratic Rep. John Bel Edwards. Following impassioned floor debate pitting social conservatives against progressives, the House then shot down the bill, despite the absence of the controversial language.
But it was the fact that several Dems voted for the Edwards amendment, which supporters of the bill decried as an attack on the main purpose of the legislation — to protect gay, lesbian and transgender students from harassment — that raised some hackles within the party.
Political activist Stephen Handwerk of Lafayette, co-chair of the National Stonewall Democrats — a gay-rights wing of the party that is a counterpoint to the Log Cabin Republicans — unloaded on his Facebook page just moments after the final roll call, singling out a handful of Dems who voted for the Edwards amendment: “Louisiana Legislators just declared open season on gay & disabled children... shame on you Karen St Germain and John Bel Edwards, Rickey Hardy, Regina Barrow who voted to exclude protections for the most vulnerable children in our state... See you on Election day in October! How many kids must commit suicide before you act? 50? 100? 1,000? Just let us know,” Handwerk fumed in a status update.
Several of Handwerk’s Facebook compatriots piped in with similar invective. Then state Rep. Karen St. Germain jumped into the fray: “ I did no such thing,” St. Germain commented. “I felt it would pass easier if we did this. So don’t label me because u never even heard my testimony. I am for the bill went to the mike on it. So if u are gonna talk about me talk to me first!!!!”
Handwerk quickly responded: “NO Karen, you stripped out the verbiage that would have protected the very kids that this bill was aimed at protecting - Kids are being pulled from school by their parents because teachers and administrators are telling them they should “NOT” be so “GAY” or “Try harder in school” so not to be called a “FAG” or a “RETARD” - and those are the kids who talk to their parents... others - as in a 12 year old boy here in lafayette HUNG HIMSELF so he wouldn’t have to face the bullies anymore because the BIAS that exists...” Handwerk added in a follow-up post that he had heard St. Germain’s testimony, telling the solon her votes “stand on their own.”
After another exchange, St. Germain signed off: “I will agree to disagree,” she wrote. “U are wrong on John Bel and my motives. Absolutely wrong. I voted for the bill everytime I thought it was a good idea! For the kids. If u would like to speak in person then I will be there.”
Handwerk also posted a critical comment on the Facebook page of state Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, to which Barrow simply responded: “God knows my heart.”