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Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Bill to Protect LGBT Kids in Public Schools

Rep. Jared Polis Introduces Bill to Protect LGBT Kids in Public Schools

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has introduced the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R.4350) into the US House of Representatives. The bill aims to curb violence against students in public schools who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and to establish a federal prohibition on discrimination in public schools based on a student’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

From Rep Jared Polis’ press release:

“Every day innocent students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and fellow students based on their sexual orientation,” said Polis.  “These actions not only hurt our students and our schools but, left unchecked, can also lead to life-threatening violence.  Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s, my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear.”

Current federal statutes already give protected status to students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability and national origin. Currently, no express federal protection exists for sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that school districts often have no comprehensive guide on how to tackle anti-gay prejudice and bullying, and that they are not always held accountable for taking steps to manage and prevent the bullying and mistreatment of LGBT students in their care.

The bill has 60 original co-sponsors including Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Barney Frank. The ACLU has released a statement calling the bill “well overdue,” and praising Rep Jared Polis’ advocacy and leadership on this issue. Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel, writes:  

“This landmark bill is long overdue. Many LGBT students face harassment, discrimination and sometimes violence in our schools. Our public schools should not be places of exclusion, but places where students feel safe and free from discrimination. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will go a long way toward protecting LGBT students and will help promote a better learning environment. We urge the House to take swift action on this bill.”

Lambda Legal similarly praised the bill and also highlighted how they have presonally seen a very real need for such protection in US schools. From the Lambda Legal press release:

“At Lambda Legal, we’ve encountered extraordinary cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT young people in schools – and sometimes against the allies who try to support them. The Student Non-Discrimination Act takes a big step toward a safer and healthier environment in every public school.

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have long been at a significant disadvantage without specific protection under federal law. All students have a right to a safe learning environment, and this law will leave no doubt as to public schools’ responsibility to provide it.”

In a 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 91 percent of middle school students who identified as being LGBT reported that they had been verbally harassed because of their perceived or actual sexuality, while 59 percent reported that they had been physically harassed (pushed about or shoved), and 38 percent reported that they had been physically assaulted (punched, kicked or injured with a weapon). A similar trend was found for students facing hostility over their perceived or actual gender expression.

The study also noted the following:

Finding: Many LGBT students in middle school did not have access to important resources and interventions that can improve school climate.

  • Very few LGBT middle school students (4%) reported that their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar student club, and they were much less likely to have a GSA than students in high school (43%).
  • 64% of LGBT middle school students reported having at least one teacher or other school staff person in school who they felt was supportive of LGBT students, but they were less likely than high school students (86%) to report having supportive school staff.
  • When asked about the presence of school policies addressing harassment, 52% of LGBT middle school students reported that their school had some type of anti-harassment policy. However, only 17% of middle school students reported that the policy explicitly mentioned protections from harassment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression.
  • If there’s any doubt in your mind as to the need for the Student Non-Discrimination Act, Sirdeaner Walker’s story may speak to you. In 2009 her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, committed suicide by hanging himself. Why? Mrs. Walker puts it down to the near constant bullying he had endured at school over his perceived sexuality. Carl was just eleven-years-old. When, prior to Carl’s suicide, Mrs. Walker had raised concerns with the school, they dismissed the name calling and physical harassment her son had received as being “normal.” On the school’s failure to help her son, she later said:

    “I desperately wish they had been right. But like the vast majority of schools… they just didn’t know how to deal with bullying. They simply didn’t have the policies or the training to make it better. And the problem just got worse.”

    You can find out more about Sirdeaner Walker’s campaign for comprehensive anti-bullying reform by clicking here.

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    Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to John Steven Fernandez.

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    40 comments

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    1:30PM PDT on Apr 2, 2010

    thank you

    1:00PM PST on Feb 13, 2010

    I hope this gets through. All children deserve a safe childhood.

    11:49AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

    I really don't care if you are gay or straight as long as you love and care for another person why does it matter. There are too many homes where there is no LOVE. Why limit a child from finding LOVE and belonging? Too many times people use a book or myth to push their own bigtory on the public. There is good and bad in every life. Lets have MORE good so that every one can find HAPPYNESS in life.

    8:26AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

    The 'stupid' population always turn protections set up for kids in to an ass backwards event. I taught at a school where a group of teachers were called GLBT safe for kids to talk to and an after school group was set up for GLBT kids for a social safety net. And wouldn't you know, some nut job wrote a letter claiming the school was trying to turn his kids 'gay'. Leave it to the 'dumb and dumber' crowd to screw up programs set up to keep kids safe. It's the 'pointy brain' thinking that does 'em in.

    9:04PM PST on Jan 31, 2010

    Bulling is ASSULT plain and simple-- I quit school when I was 16 because of bullying (If I could have quit sooner, I would have). If I stayed I would have killed myself-- Or my tormentors. Now my eight-year-old has to put up with shit because *I* don't belive in their christian god? I WON'T stand for it-- If it gets to the level I had to put up with, there WILL be a lawsuit!
    Good on Jared Polis! Pass that law folks!

    2:41PM PST on Jan 31, 2010

    Bullying is bullying is bullying. Howzabout a zero bullying policy against anyone. Do we need a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Holy $hit here people. This comes from someone who was bullied.

    How stupid. OK, now, you cannot bully Tiffany, but its ok to pummel Jane into the ground. WTF.

    7:43AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

    Again, it's all fine and well to say "private citizens must do such-and-such" but there is no way to pursue that. People who think there are already "too many laws" would cry bloody murder if the government started coming into their homes and tell them how to raise their children. Which isn't possible anyway, and that's sort of the point. This is the only way we can approach it on a public level. Everyone seems to agree that bullying attitudes and behaviours come from the home and need to be changed in the home, but since administrators and teachers and educators in the public system can't go door to door, the alternative is to either try and increase recourse in the schools or do nothing. Individual, private citizens obviously can choose to do more than that-- but you can't legislate to make them do it.

    There is a reason that there is legislation regarding discrimination and hate crimes, minority protection, etc. In a perfect world no one would be picked on. Or, in a slightly different kind of perfect world, everyone would be picked on equally, and it wouldn't matter what the motivation was. Unfortunately, the reality is that certain groups are considered "minorities" and, more than that, they are minorities that are consistently subjected to harassment because of their minority status.

    4:05AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

    thanks

    4:05AM PST on Jan 30, 2010

    it's sad that this still happens.

    4:20PM PST on Jan 29, 2010

    We do not need "special" laws to protect every group in the country! I was picked on for not being good at team sports - should we make special protection laws for crummy pitchers? Schools should be held responsible for policing assault - if a kid does it twice, expel him! End of problem. And if it's only verbal harassment, they still must dole out punishment and yes, have strong talks with all students about this topic of harassment, regardless of WHY the harassment is happening, and if they can show a continued pattern, again, expel the harassers! Get the parents involved, counseling, etc. TEACH THE KIDS RIGHT FROM WRONG. But do not tell me we need more federal laws about this, it's well - meaning nonsense!

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