"That's so gay."
"Don't be a fag."
"You throw like a girl."
Those piercing phrases can be heard in school hallways, locker rooms and classrooms as often as chatter about homework assignments or the big game. The statistics show half of Missouri youth hear things like that, and consider it to be a serious problem.
Supporters of new legislation call it "bullying" and want schools to begin cracking down on small incidents in order to head off larger ones in the future.
Gay and lesbian rights advocates joined high school students and teachers Wednesday to push legislation that would strengthen the state's anti-bullying laws.
Missouri already has an anti-bullying law. But this new bill would cover more students in more schools.
The language would specifically prohibit bullying motivated by "race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, physical appearance or mental, physical or sensory disability."
The legislation would require schools to establish specific procedures to report and investigate bullying and require the state Board of Education to create an anti-bullying policy by fall of 2008.
Springfield Rep. Sara Lampe is sponsoring legislation in the House.
This legislation has been brought up before, but according to Don Dressel of PROMO, the bill had been gutted by Republicans before passage.
"I'm certain there are some Republicans who support it," said Nora Walcott, an aide to Rep. Sara Lampe.
To these advocates, bullying doesn't just have to do with sex or appearance. It can involve harassment about athletic ability.
Sean Wingo of Glendale High School spoke about trying out for the baseball team when he was a freshman. "I was harassed by a fellow teammate who was a senior, I never made it to the second day of try-outs Who knew? I could've gone pro. But I'll never know because of something that could have very easily been prevented," Wingo said.
Student Aimee Pry said bullying can also be indirect and discrete. "Rumors, being talked about behind my back, being lied to," Pry said. "It's bullying."
Student Riley O'Dell spoke about the increase in cyber bullying. "You can tell which students have been bullied in school, because they are the ones with their shoulders hunched over and flinch at any given touch," he said.
Glendale teacher Tracy Bruton said this shouldn't be a partisan issue. "I'm a Republican," she said. But Bruton said students who are bullied have lower self-esteem, higher depression and absentee rates and more suicidal tendencies. Bruton said 1 in 9 students stay home from school each day because of bullying.
The question is whether stronger legislation will really help the problem. It certainly won't stop the slurs in school. But would it hold teachers and administrators more accountable for putting a stop to it? And if teachers are mandated to stop it, will it turn their attention away from learning? Is it feasible to hold teachers accountable for every slur, or piece of gossip heard in the hallways? And when is it just a playful joke or something more serious?
Bruton said the legislation would be a small step in changing perceptions. "The idea is to hold people more accountable," she said.
"If noone ever stands up, it will never change," Dressel added.