Education

Bay-Waveland students gave LGBT bill their best shot in Jackson

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Bay-Waveland Middle School eighth-grader Amaya Clark was optimistic before she headed to Jackson on Thursday to co-sponsor a bill in the Mississippi Junior Youth Legislature that would have banned workplace discrimination against LGBT employees.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Bay-Waveland Middle School eighth-grader Amaya Clark was optimistic before she headed to Jackson on Thursday to co-sponsor a bill in the Mississippi Junior Youth Legislature that would have banned workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. SUN HERALD

WAVELAND -- A bill to ban workplace discrimination against LGBT employees failed in a mock legislative session that junior high school students attended for three days in Jackson, but bill co-sponsor and eighth-grader Amaya Clark said the experience kindled her interest in politics.

Amaya and her team partner, Gabrielle Barbino, wrote the bill for Mississippi's Youth in Government Program before they realized the state Legislature would consider a "religious freedom" bill allowing some businesses, government employees and religious organizations to deny marriage-related services to members of the LGBT community based on religious beliefs. Gov. Phil Bryant recently signed the bill into law.

Amaya and Gabrielle wrote their bill for the Junior Youth Legislature, which convened Thursday in Jackson and lasted three days.

"I discovered that I actually really like debating," Amaya said.

The mock session simulates procedures in the Legislature, right down to committee assignments, floor votes, and conference committee meetings to iron out differences in House and Senate legislation.

"I learned how large of a process it was and the actual things a bill has to go through," Amaya said. "I didn't realize how long the process was going to be and how much it was going to take. It was a lot."

Alas, she did not get to present her bill. Amaya was assigned to the House, her team partner to the Senate. While the bill made it out of a Senate committee, it got only 10 votes on the floor and, therefore, didn't make it to the House.

But Amaya's not giving up. Her mother, Sarah Morgan, has supported the project and intends to help Amaya find a sponsor for the bill in the real Legislature.

Some of the youth bills from past years have actually gone to the Legislature and become state law.

Amaya is convinced her bill is needed, especially after researching workplace discrimination against LGBT employees and learning how widespread it is in Mississippi.

Before she went to the competition, she told the Sun Herald: "My best arguments for (the bill) are that everyone deserves their own rights and we're supposed to separate the church and state, and we've been arguing for equality for everyone for a long time. We shouldn't just set somebody out because of our own beliefs."

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