A Higher Education

Rep. Polis introduces legislation to protect LGBT students from harassment in public schools

by Chris Geidner
Published on January 27, 2010, 11:41pm | Comments

Citing “relentless harassment and discrimination” and “life-threatening violence” faced by students “based on their sexual orientation,” U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) today introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit such discrimination, as well as that based on gender identity, in public schools in the United States.

The bill would require that no student in public schools be “excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” based on the student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also would prohibit harassment based on either characteristic.

The bill protects LGBT allies as well, prohibiting discrimination based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of the people with whom a student associates.

According to Lara Cottingham, Polis’s spokeswoman, the congressman’s office met with the Department of Justice about the bill and said that the definition of “harassment” in the bill was in keeping with guidance from the Department of Education. She also noted that the bill’s language is modeled after Title IX, the landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sex in public schools.

The bill would create a private right of action, which is the ability to file a civil lawsuit, to enforce the law. It also calls on all agencies involved in funding education programs or activities to set rules and regulations to achieve the goals of the legislation.

“These actions not only hurt our students and our schools but, left unchecked, can also lead to life-threatening violence,” Polis said in a statement. “Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s, my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear.”

The bill, H.R. 4530, was introduced with 60 co-sponsors, including one Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.). Among the Democrats, Washington, D.C., Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a co-sponsor of the legislation, as are the other two openly LGBT members of Congress, Reps. Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.) and Barney Frank (Mass.)

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with several LGBT and educational organizations, already are in support of the legislation, according to information provided by Polis’s office.

ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders said in a statement, “Our public schools should not be places of exclusion, but places where students feel safe and free from discrimination. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will go a long way toward protecting LGBT students and will help promote a better learning environment.”