Metro Weekly

Federal Questions

Two bills that could have an impact on bullying are languishing in Congress

Helping Hands Federal Questions Fighting to Save Our Youth

Discussion of LGBT bullying and youth suicide has led to increased efforts by organizations and individuals to eliminate – or, at least, lessen – both. The Congress, however, has taken a recess so that members can campaign for the upcoming midterm elections, so little discussion has focused on legislation in Congress that could help.

Two pieces of legislation focusing on LGBT bullying – the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act – have been introduced in the 111th Congress. Neither has even received a hearing.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye wrote to Metro Weekly that ”the President supports the goals of both of these bills – we all need to work towards an America where our schools and our communities are safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The White House has not, however, specifically endorsed either piece of legislation at this point.

The safe schools bill was introduced in 2009 by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and has 125 cosponsors in the House, including some Republicans. The legislation would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying and harassment prevention programs, including ones based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A companion bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) in August and has 12 Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate.

SNDA was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in January and, like the safe schools bill, has 125 co-sponsors and bipartisan support. Polis’s spokeswoman told Metro Weekly earlier this year that the bill’s language – which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools – is modeled after Title IX, the landmark legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools.

Polis, one of three out gay members of Congress, has been strongly pushing the bill, saying in a statement sent to Metro Weekly, ”Every day LGBT harassment and bullying affects innocent students in classrooms across the country.”

”As the recent tragedies have shown, these actions not only hurt students regardless of their sexual orientation, but when left unchecked can also lead to life-threatening violence,” he said in the statement. ”My bill, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, would protect the individual freedoms of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in our classrooms to ensure that all students get a quality education, free from fear.”

Although action on either bill is unlikely in this Congress, Inouye pointed to the 112th Congress, telling Metro Weekly, ”Next year when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being considered, we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, harassment, and intimidation; that students have access to adults who engage them and care about their success, and to supports that promote their learning and well-being.”’

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