A conference of students, politicians and gay groups is getting together to raise awareness about the bullying and harassment of gay and lesbian youth.

More than 500 people from 75 cities are expected to attend a conference at Drake University in Iowa. The conference is being hosted by Gov. Tom Vilsack and Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force.

About 200 of the attendees are Iowa students, Clark said. A student panel will discuss bullying and how to make life safer for gay and lesbian students.

Brad Clark , executive director of the task force said the delegates will discuss the findings of a study which found that 20 percent of Iowa schools had specific anti-harassment policies to protect gay and lesbian students during the 2004-05 school year.

Keynote speakers include James Howe, author of “The Misfits.” Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was murdered in 1998 in Wyoming.

“Iowa needs legislation requiring all school districts to adhere to anti-harassment policies to protect gay and lesbian students,” Mr Clark said.

The Legislature has discussed the bill, but at least one state lawmaker said he doesn’t think a law is necessary. Senate Republican Leader Stewart Iverson of Clarion said he is against the bullying and harassment of all students, but he doesn’t think Iowa needs specific legislation for gay and lesbian students.

“I firmly believe there is not one single child that should be harassed in school for whatever reason,” Mr Iverson said. “I do not think there needs to be specific language about gay and lesbian students.”

Mr Clark added a state policy could make a big difference by giving teachers procedures to follow, let gay students know they have recourse and show perpetrators that there will be consequences.