Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are again attempting to stem the tide of harassment against LGBT youth in public schools with legislation reintroduced Tuesday in both houses of COngress.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in America’s public schools. Under the act, schools would be prohibited from discriminating against LGBT students or turning a blind eye to anti-LGBT harassment. Modeled after Title IX, which banned gender discrimination in the 1970s, loss of federal funding for schools and legal cause of action for victims of harassment are among the remedies that bill would provide to combat LGBT bullying.
“Kids need to feel safe in their schools in order to learn,” stated Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who introduced the Senate version of the bill. “Right now, our civil rights laws explicitly protect children from bullying due to race, sex, disability, and national origin. But they don’t stop discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Our legislation fixes this injustice and extends essential protections to LGBT youth in Minnesota and across the country. No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied.”
In the House of Representatives, the bill received a bipartisan reintroduction by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking Democratic member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.).
“It’s simply unacceptable that in 2015, there are thousands of students who face bullying and harassment every day when they get to school simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” Polis, who is openly gay, said in a statement.
According to Scott, “Evidence shows that discrimination against LGBT students deprives them of equal educational opportunities by increasing their likelihood of skipping school, underperforming academically, and dropping out.”
Polis and Franken first introduced the bill in 2010 and it has since won the endorsement of President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, with Republican majorities now in both houses of Congress, the bill is expected to face an even tougher battle than it did during its last introduction two years ago.
Dr. Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, said the legislation is straight forward and sorely needed. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, schools nationwide remain hostile environments for LGBT students. “The federal government has a responsibility to protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, just as it does based on race and religion,” Byard said in a statement.
“No student should face discrimination for any reason, including their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “If we aspire to a society where prejudices are a relic of the past then we must begin by preaching and living the virtues of tolerance at our educational institutions.”
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