|U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (center)|
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (center) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)One of the openly gay members of Congress on Thursday reintroduced legislation aimed to protect LGBT students against bullying and discrimination in school.
In the U.S. House, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act — as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate — at a time when bullying of LGBT students is receiving considerable attention.
In a statement, Polis said “education is the right of every student” regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It becomes more apparent with each case that this is a problem that is not going away — sometimes even teachers and administrators contribute to the problem,” Polis said. “The alarming increase in teen suicides has shown us just how far we are from making our children’s schools safe spaces. We must take action to protect the safety of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in our classrooms.”
Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Student Non-Discrimination Act would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools against LGBT students. Additionally, the measure would also forbid schools from discriminating against based on the sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit them from ignoring harassing behavior.
If enacted into law, violating the Student Non-Discrimination Act would lead to the loss of federal funding and give victims a legal cause of action for discrimination in public schools.
During a news conference on Thursday, Polis said the legislation would, among other things, prohibit schools from forbidding gay-straight alliances to form on campuses.
“Just last week, in Corpus Christi, Texas, Dr. Julie Cabarjal, superintendent of the Flour Bluff school district said there’s quote-on-quote no chance that the district will approve a student-organized gay-straight alliance,” Polis said. “How can a gay-straight alliance, an organization whose goal is to make students feel welcome and accepted, be seen as a threat to be dismissed out of hand by a school leader?”
The lawmakers introduced the legislation on the same day President Obama held a White House conference to speak out and devise strategies against bullying in schools. Earlier in the week, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act in the U.S. Senate, which would require schools to establish anti-bullying policies.
Bullying against LGBT students received renewed attention late last year when several young men who were gay or perceived to be gay took their own lives after they were reportedly bullied. Among them was Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, who leaped off the George Washington Bridge in September after a video was posted online of him reportedly having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room.
In a statement, Franken decried the bullying of gay students and said he’s committed to passing legislation that would remedy the situation.
“Unchecked bullying of LGBT students is unacceptable,” Franken said. “The high suicide rate for LGBT youth — as witnessed across the country over the past year — shows that we are falling drastically short in our efforts to protect our kids,” Franken said.
First introduced in the 111th Congress, the Student Non-Discrimination Act currently has 99 co-sponsors in the House and 27 co-sponsors in the Senate.
In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Polis and Franken for reintroducing the legislation in Congress.
“Every child deserves an equal education free from discrimination, harassment and bullying,” Solmonese said. “Unfortunately, LGBT students have historically been alienated, harassed, and bullied in their schools, with little or no intervention from school personnel. Far too many of these students have underperformed or dropped out in response to the lack of safety and support.”
Download a copy of the Senate version of the bill.