Ceci Maher

State Senator

Ceci Maher

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together For Our Communities

March 5, 2024
Today, the Committee on Children, led by Senate Chair State Senator Ceci Maher (D-Wilton) and House Chair State Representative Liz Linehan (D-Cheshire, Southington, Wallingford), held a public hearing and heard public testimony on bills including one that would study the effects of hate speech on children and their development. The bill targets speech aimed to diminish, demean or derive hatred of others due to their differences – race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and more – and looks to determine how its effects can impact a child’s health and achievement as they grow.

Senate Bill 327, “An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study The Effects Of Hate Speech On Children’s Health And Achievement,” if passed, would study the effects of hate speech on the mental and physical health as well as educational achievement of children. Under the bill, “hate speech” means forms of expression where a speak intends to vilify, humiliate or incite hatred against a group or class of persons on basis of race, religion, skin color, sexual or gender identity, ethnicity, disability or national origin. It will also focus on body positivity.

The task force created by the bill would include a representative of an organization focused on behavioral health and well-being of children, a pediatric care provider, members of organizations seeking to end discrimination and representatives from a number of Connecticut departments. Findings would be reported to the General Assembly by the start of 2025.

This bill received significant positive testimony supporting its ideals, including TEAM Westport, which reported feedback from several students and graduates from Westport schools where they experienced discrimination and bias in school culture. In recent weeks, discussion of racism and other discrimination has impacted the Westport community, which has rallied in support of those facing such treatment. Multiple Westport parents also testified, citing experiences their children faced in schools.

Additional supportive testimony included remarks from John Flanders and Andrew Feinstein, the President and Legislative Chair, respectively, of Special Education Equity for Kids of Connecticut, or SEEK, which works to support students with disabilities. Both said students with disabilities who experience discrimination or hate speech internalize and are stigmatized by the experience. “Hate speech not only has a seriously negative impact on children, it undermines the basic support for civil society,” said Flanders.

Dr. Tichianaa Armah, the President of the Connecticut Psychiatric Society, chief psychiatry officer at Community Health Center, Inc., and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, testified and said it was “incredible” to notice a “stark change” in treating children after they entered school and faced racism. “They were experiencing a great deal of racism and daily microaggressions,” Armah said, and that had a direct impact on their lives. “It’s really easy to focus on anything but race because it’s challenging to talk about,” she said, “but racial discrimination, use of racial slurs, not just use verbally but in text, really needs to be addressed.”

Nicholas Kapoor, the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, also testified in support of the bill, hoping such a task force can lead to effective mitigation strategies to support children in the future. He said in his past experience as a Monroe Board of Education member, a survey of students on bullying revealed as many as 15% of students did not feel safe in school bathrooms and nearly 20% of students identified as LGBTQ+, implying inherent risks to student safety.

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