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Since 2010, when several high profile bullying-related suicides brought bullying and cyberharassment into the national consciousness, all 50 states have passed laws that address bullying among the nation’s youth. This essay is the first in a series of three projects on federal, state, municipal, and individual school approaches to bullying. There are only 4 published studies on the relationships between law and bullying rates. This Essay adds several features to the discourse. It offers a comprehensive analysis of the contents of state anti-bullying laws, using a 16-item list of guidelines from the United States Department of Education as a frame. It then considers how effective these laws are at reducing the rates of bullying and cyberbullying among lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. Using various statistical models, this essay shows that having an anti-bullying law alone—even a comprehensive one—is not sufficient to have a significant effect on rates of bullying, cyberbullying, and suicidal thoughts among LGB teenagers. Rather, states with more pro-equality laws, in general, reflecting a long-standing commitment to LGBTQ inclusion, are more likely to have lower rates of LGB bullying in schools. Anti-bullying laws have only a minor, enhancing effect on that relationship. This analysis has implications not just for state and local efforts to combat bullying and harassment, but also highlights the profound public safety benefits associated with social and legal commitments to equality.


Cornell Law Review Online, Vol. 103, 2018