A flood of calls and mail from social conservatives who don't want gay students on a list of potential bullying targets helped stall votes on a proposed school safety law.
Legislators have been working on a bullying bill for more than a year, and until Tuesday morning thought they had a compromise that would pass both House and Senate.
But the bill stalled over a list that included "sexual orientation" as one of more than a dozen reasons a student might be bullied or harassed. Both the House and Senate plan to vote on a bullying bill before they finish work this week, though it is not certain what it will say.
Opponents want the whole list removed. Those who want the law to list potential targets said the descriptions are necessary because some bullying is ignored or tolerated as "kids being kids."
"When people are being ignored, you have to be specific sometimes," said Brian Lewis, lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of Educators.
The Christian Action League is asking people on its mailing list to tell legislators to oppose it, and the North Carolina Family Policy Council has written extensively on its view that homosexual rights groups are using the issue of school safety to promote a social agenda.
"This is a watershed issue, and if 'sexual orientation' is enacted into North Carolina law through HB 1366, it will serve as the basis for affirming deviant sexual behaviors throughout our state statutes," read a brief that Bill Brooks, Family Policy Council executive director, gave to legislators.
Brooks said schools should prohibit bullying for any reason and the law would be stronger without the descriptions.
One senator said he received more than 175 cards, e-mails, letters and telephone calls telling him not to support it.
Dozens of states have passed anti-bullying laws. Some were spurred, in part, by a connection between harassment and shootings. A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service on 37 school shootings said that most shooters were motivated by revenge.
Gay North Carolina high school students have been speaking out about bullying at school. Leslie Thompson of Alamance County said her 18-year-old sister, Erica Collora, has endured years of taunts for being a lesbian.
"It's important to include the descriptions," said Thompson, 34, who is raising her sister because both parents have died. "I think the school systems as a whole don't know how to deal with it."
Thompson said she was used to seeing her sister "teary or in a rage" over being taunted.
"The counselors have always been very nice to Erica," Thompson said. She added that they had done nothing about the taunting.