A new policy providing clearer protections for LGBT students will be implemented by Miami-Dade County starting today.

Equality Florida — dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBT residents — explains that “with this latest victory, 1.55 million students representing nearly 60% of Florida’s school population are now protected from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity – ranking Florida fourth in the nation.”

Equality adds that the Miami-Dade Safe Schools Coalition worked for more than a decade to expand this policy in Miami. The coalition includes the NAACP, AFL-CIO, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, United Teachers of Dade, SEIU, Save Dade, and the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth.

A Save Dade press release states: “Three years after Florida passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which prohibits the bullying or harassment, including cyberbullying, of any public K-12 student or employee, Miami-Dade County Administration amended their policy to be explicitly inclusive of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).”

Save Dade is “dedicated to protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) against discrimination.”

The Jeffrey Johnston law, also known as “Jeffrey’s Law,” was named for a Cape Coral student who committed suicide in 2005 after bullying by a classmate.

According to a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network 2009 survey “of 7,261 middle and high school students,” “nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.”

A 2009 research brief (.pdf) by the organization on Florida schools found that “Florida schools were not safe for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) secondary school students. In addition, many LGBT students in Florida did not have access to important school resources, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, and were not protected by comprehensive bullying/harassment school policies.”

The data shows that while harassment in Florida schools was not limited to LGBT students, they did have the highest rates of verbal and physical harassment as well physical assaults, many of which were not reported to adult authorities.

Anthony Armstrong, executive director of the Orlando-based  Zebra Coalition, told the Florida Independent this week that in schools there can be severe cases of bullying and name-calling but teachers and administrators don’t realize how those break a student down. This gap has inspired the Zebra Coalition to develop an education program to work with schools there.

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