Is Leah Vukmir a big teen bully?

Cory Liebmann

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a series of tragic student suicides all over the country. Many of them involved the bullying and harassment of young people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Although this issue recently has gained national attention, the staggering rate of suicide among LGBT youth is not a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Studies consistently show that LGBT youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide. The rate jumps to 8.4 times if they have been rejected by their families.  

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network estimates that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the previous year. That’s why this group and others have made it a top priority to create a supportive infrastructure for LGBT students, including anti-bullying legislation that protects all students from persecution.   

Earlier this year, bullying language was added to a school security bill in the Wisconsin Legislature (Senate Bill 154).  Why would anyone oppose legislation that sought to protect all students from bullying? One person that we might ask is the head of the rabidly anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Council, Julaine Appling.  She actively lobbied against the bullying language in the bill.

And one legislator she succeeded in influencing was state Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, who’s campaigning to unseat state Sen. Jim Sullivan.

In a Jan. 12 e-mail, Appling told Vukmir that she was just “checking in” about some testimony that her organization presented regarding the bullying provision.  She went on to claim that the bullying provision was “dangerous.”

Appling also gave her “guarantee” to Vukmir that the provision is “promoted by the pro-gay group GLSEN and others.” Appling then give Vukmir some “alternative language” for the legislation. Vukmir responded that she was “open to your suggestions.”

Months later, Vukmir voted against the legislation both in committee and on the Assembly floor. The floor vote came only one day before the National Day of Silence, which is a student-led event to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.  

Vukmir’s opponent in the Fifth Senate District voted for the anti-bullying and school security legislation. In fact Sullivan’s fair-minded approach to public policy has rightfully earned him the endorsements of the Wisconsin Gazette, Fair Wisconsin and the Human Rights League PAC.  Sullivan’s positive solutions-based approach to legislation is far superior to Vukmir’s extreme brand of reactionary politics.  

Together we can work to curb this terrible trend of bullying LGBT students.  Hopefully in the process we can also convince the victims of such abuse that the world is a much better place with them in it.  But need honest partners in the state Legislature who make decisions based on sound policy and the common good rather than on their own brand of extreme ideology.