Metro Weekly

Federal lawmakers reintroduce bill to protect LGBTQ college students from harassment

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act would require colleges to make their anti-harassment policies more inclusive

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan — Photo: Todd Franson

A trio of congressional lawmakers has reintroduced a bill that would require colleges and universities to adopt policies prohibiting harassment based on students’ sexual orientation or gender identity, among a number of other factors.

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2019 seeks to force institutions of higher learning to adopt policies that will reduce bullying and harassment — including cyberbullying — against students because of their identity.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), would also establish a grant program to support anti-harassment activities and programs on college campuses.

The bill is named after Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University who committed suicide after his roommate and another student cyberbullied him by invading his privacy and using a webcam to broadcast footage of a sexual encounter he had with another male.

“No student should be harassed or cyberbullied for who they are, or who they love,” Pocan said in a statement. “Bullying is a real and persistent danger for many LGBTQ students at our colleges and universities, but there is no federal legislation that specifically protects students from being targeted based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five students report they have been bullied, including being subject to forms of cyberbullying.

Murray, Baldwin, and Pocan introduced a previous iteration of the measure in the last Congress, but it never received a committee hearing or a vote in either chamber.

The same fate is likely to befall the Senate version of the bill as long as Republicans control the upper chamber, but there could be an outside chance that the Democratic-led House of Representatives gives the bill some consideration at a future time.

Currently, the bill has 23 Senate co-sponsors, all of whom are members of the Democratic caucus. There are 47 House co-sponsors at this time, all of whom are Democrats.

In his statement, Pocan also took a swipe at President Donald Trump, noting that the Trump administration, since taking office, has rescinded guidance allowing transgender children to be treated according to their gender identity, and has refused to investigate certain complaints of discrimination if they are brought by transgender students.

The Department of Justice has also argued that Title IX’s prohibitions on sex-based discrimination do not apply to LGBTQ students, and has urged federal courts to reach similar conclusions.

“With the White House’s refusal to act, we must take a strong stance to ensure that all students are protected,” Pocan added.

“No student should have to put their wellbeing, safety, or their life in jeopardy just to access an education, but sadly we’re seeing students around the country take drastic measures because of bullying and harassment,” Murray said in a statement. “In introducing this legislation, I’m calling on colleges and universities to step up and start taking responsibility for students’ safety, and I’m so thankful for the support and partnership of advocates like Jane Clementi, who is fighting to ensure every student — no matter who they are, what they believe, or who they love — can pursue higher education free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying.”

Sen. Patty Murray, Photo: Facebook

“Our schools should not be, and cannot be, places of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or violence,” Baldwin added. “This legislation, named in honor of Tyler Clementi, is an important step forward in not only preventing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to succeed in safe and healthy communities of learning and achievement.”

Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother and the CEO and founder of the foundation that bears his name, thanked the lawmakers for introducing the act in a statement.

“We believe all institutions of higher education should have policies to keep all their students safe,” Clementi said. “Because every student deserves a positive educational experience in a safe environment free of harassment, bullying or humiliation, where they can learn, study and thrive regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or whatever else makes them special and precious; and every parent should have peace of mind that their children will be protected and free of harm while in the school’s care.”

In addition to the Tyler Clementi Foundation, bill has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Women’s Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, the American Association of University Women, GLSEN, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Harassment is rampant on college campuses and undermines students’ ability to thrive in a safe environment,” Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement. “This bill is a critical step forward in combatting this scourge. It strengthens protections against harassment and would support much needed prevention and training programs. Every student in America deserves the right to learn without fear. This bill helps make that promise a reality.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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