Today Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, released the following statement in response to recent tragic incidents of youth committing suicide as a result of pervasive anti-LGBT harassment and bullying in schools and college campuses across the country:
“This week, we sadly lost two young men who took their own lives for one unacceptable reason: they were being bullied and harassed because they were openly gay or believed to be gay. These unnecessary tragedies come on the heels of at least three other young people taking their own lives because the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear.Actually, it’s time for the Obama administration and our national LGBT advocacy organizations to actively push for the passage of the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).
“This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.”
The SSIA, first introduced in the House in 2007, is currently locked up in the House Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities. It amends the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act) to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also requires states to collect and report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
On July 8, 2009, Sirdeaner Walker, mother of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, testified before that committee in support of SNDA’s passage just a few months after Carl committed suicide after experiencing pervasive anti-gay harassment at school. A YouTube clip of her testimony is below and GLSEN provided a transcript here.
Introduced for the first time in the House and Senate in 2010, SNDA prohibits school programs or activities that receive federal funding from discriminating against any public school student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. SNDA also prohibits discrimination against any public school student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated. Discrimination, as defined by SNDA, also includes harassment of a student. SNDA also prohibits retaliation based on an individual’s opposition to conduct made illegal by the bill, and it affirms the right of any individual who believes he or she has been harmed under its provisions to pursue legal recourse.
SNDA is currently locked up in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
As an undergraduate, my first class on public policy included a variety of theories on how policy becomes law despite a U.S. system of government designed to be slow and deliberate. The theories of John Kingdon reigned supreme and focused, among other things, on a “window of opportunity” opening that creates an often singular opportunity for legislation to be passed, usually due to the convergence of unexpected events that capture the public’s and politician’s attention.
My broken hear over the rash of suicides in the past month would never reduce those tragedies to political “windows os opportunity.” Still, we all have to wonder the proverbial, “if not now, when?” as these two major pieces of legislation languish in a Congress focused on the mid-term election.
We need leadership in Congress, the White House, and in our movement’s national organizations to stand up and demand attention to anti-LGBT bullying in more than just words.
It’s time to pass SNDA and the SSIA. Period.