New Anti-Bullying Rule In Effect For Miami-Dade Schools

Inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity clause applauded by anti-bullying crusader

By Donna Rapado and Janie Campbell
|  Saturday, Jul 23, 2011  |  Updated 4:17 PM EDT
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Friday, new anti-bullying rules are in effect for Miami-Dade schools -- and one woman says the change is happening just in time.

Friday, new anti-bullying rules are in effect for Miami-Dade schools -- and one woman says the change is happening just in time.

On Friday, the Miami-Dade Public School District ammended the language of its anti-bullying and harassment policy to explicitly include unwanted harm against any student or teacher based on “sexual orientation and gender identity."

Previously citing the likes of sex, race, color, religion, disability, and socio-economic status, the policy now protects gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students.

Jowharah Sanders, a woman whose mission it is to help bullied students after knowing what it was like not to have such measures, says the move is most welcome.

"It immediately brings a smile to my face," she said. "I'm like, 'Wow, finally!'"

As a 15-year-old Miami high school student, Sanders confided to a classmate that she was questioning her sexuality, wondering if she might like girls. Her friend quickly spread Sanders' secret, leading to horrifying consequences.

"I was abducted from my school and taken to a house and was sexually assaulted by multiple men," Sanders said. "They wanted to show me that if I just had sex with a guy, I would not be gay."

Sanders escaped, and days later admitted to her parents and school principal that she had been raped.

But the principal, she says, advised her parents that they should withdraw Sanders from school.

"My parents were so ashamed of it, because...no one wants to talk about, you know, this thing that has happened -- whether it's your fault or not. Especially with rape victims, no one wants to talk about it.

"My parents were like, 'It's better that you don't go to school. Don't tell anybody.' I could've used somebody to talk to."

Sanders tried committing suicide twice, and doctors eventually diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She slowly started getting her life back on track after eventually telling her mother why the men had assaulted her.

Now, Sanders dedicates her life to helping students across South Florida through her non-profit organization National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment, speaking at schools in Miami-Dade and Broward -- and helping kids, whether gay or straight.

"When I ask them, 'What'd you do today?" they don't stop talking. And that's telling me either somebody is not asking them about their day, or they don't feel like someone's listening."

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