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The Buffalo School District is now prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, bringing with that new policy a change that supporters say is long overdue.

The board has unanimously voted to amend two existing policies to include sexual orientation as a protected category in hiring, promotions and access to services and benefits.

The board also has unanimously approved a resolution that states its determination to create "safe schools in a pluralistic society" by promoting tolerance of all people, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, marital status, national origin, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.

The resolution directs the district to develop "age-appropriate programs to teach respect for diversity," through curricula, codes of behavior and staff training.

Both the policy changes and the resolution were approved at Wednesday's board meeting.

North District Member Deborah E. Bang introduced the resolution.

"It goes back to last summer when I was serving on the New York State School Board Association's Resolution Committee," she said. "So much of the harassment and victimization that's going on in our schools today stems from racism and stereotypes. Racism and stereotypes are fostered by ignorance."

The School Boards Association adopted its version of a safe-schools policy at its convention last fall, and Bang returned to Buffalo determined to see a similar measure adopted here.

The Empire State Pride Agenda, a political advocacy group for gay and lesbian issues, monitored the progress of the amendments and the resolution.

Prohibition of harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation is not common in school districts throughout the state, said Allan Richards, a spokesman for the group.

"It's great that Buffalo has said 'No' to discrimination, in my opinion, by doing this action," he said.

Dr. Frank P. Carnevale, a Buffalo pediatrician, endorsed the safe-schools resolution. He told board members that studies have shown that gay and lesbian adolescents are at greater risk for drug use, suicide, and abuse at home and at school. "Up to one-third of completed adolescent suicides are thought to be done by gay, lesbian or bisexual youth," Carnevale said after the board vote.

In recognition of that problem, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement that sets a mandate for pediatricians to become better informed about issues affecting these adolescents, Carnevale said.

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