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Why We Need the Student Non-Discrimination Act

Why We Need the Student Non-Discrimination Act
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This post comes courtesy of Hayley Gornberg, Deputy Legal Director at Lambda Legal. Lambda Legal is currently filing suit on behalf of Maverick Couch, a student from Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio who, after wearing a t-shirt to school that read “Jesus is not a homophobe,” was ordered by his principal to turn the T-shirt inside out and told that if he wore it again he would be suspended from school. You can show your support for Maverick, Lambda Legal, and the work being done on behalf of LGBTQ students around the country by signing the pledge.

16 years ago, we successfully represented Jamie Nabozny after he endured years of bullying and harassment at school. The ruling from the court in his case made clear for the first time that the Constitution protects gay students from harassment and abuse just as much as it protects other kids. We at Lambda Legal are very proud of that; the case spoke volumes then, and still does.

But there’s too long a line of school cases following Jamie’s lead. Too many schools around the country still allow the abuse of LGBT students to such a degree that Lambda Legal and our sister organizations can predict the fact patterns. There are often three common elements to the lawsuits we bring on behalf of students who experience anti-LGBT bullying, and we can do something to change all of them.

1. The bullying cases classically include combinations of verbal slurs and physical acts. For example, boys called “sissy” and girls taunted for being “butch.” We add this analysis about stereotypes because we don’t have federal laws that are crystal clear about protecting young people against abuse based upon sexual orientation. But the problem with not having specific enough laws is not just about some clearer legal claims in court. What’s really important is that better laws and policies and training would give even more specific guidance to schools — to help keep these cases from ever happening in the first place.

Nearly every case narrative we have includes something along the lines of this phrase: “And then it escalated to physical assaults.” I have been thinking about that repeating narrative a lot lately. About how the failure to intervene at the level of verbal taunts gives the green light to escalation. Shoving into lockers. Tripping, grabbing, kicking, punching.

2. As was the case in Jamie’s experience, school officials said to the target of antigay bullying: “You’re bringing this on yourself.” “Don’t act so gay.” “Don’t flaunt it.” Instead, school officials need to intervene at all levels, and they need to do so effectively. 

If a student doesn’t know or is too scared to say who abused her or him, many officials refuse to respond in any way. There’s no publication or republication of a nonharassment policy. No announcements. No school assembly. Instead, the student is blamed for being the target. Our lawsuit fact pattern builds.

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61 comments

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10:32AM PDT on Aug 4, 2013

Thank you for your efforts to help spread the word about the importance of taking action and advocating for LGBT students and students in general.

2:27PM PDT on Jun 4, 2013

Petition signed. I like the T-shirt. TY for sharing

1:49AM PDT on Nov 4, 2012

Thanks for a great article,

8:57AM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

A Civic Education class, stating in 1st grade, would add but one period a week to the school schedule and there is no need to remove any other type of learning. (Especially not Geography, of which most Americans are abysmally ignorant). It's not a matter of lack of time, willingness, or teachers' availability. It's just a matter of parental ignorance (and/or shortsightedness) combined with poor repartition of $$$: State budgets cut school days shorter and shorter and fire experienced teachers leading to classes more and more crowded, in order to keep our elected officials' salaries and benefits outrageously high.
The very same representatives (of whom) and senators whom we elect to take away our freedom by killing our critical thinking. Our priorities are skewed.

1:43PM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

here is evidence of evolution, as the people go so do the children, bullying is tought by the parents as they learned it from their parents, the young man was right about one thing, Jesus was not a homophobe, but he would call you on the sin of homosexuality, along with the sin of, adultry, lying, stealing, talking about people behind their backs and more, Jesus loves all of us

3:07AM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

I agree with Krysti S

2:06AM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

A class in RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITY should be taught from Grade one to graduation, children should be taught that anything is permissible as long as it does not hurt themselves or anybody else. Common sense would dictate that if children are taught at a very early age that every child has their own strengths and weaknesses and that they should use their strengths to help not tease or bully others. It should not matter if a child comes from a FAMILY of a mother and father, 2 mothers or 2 fathers or a single mother or father as long as they are LOVED.
Sex Education should be taught from LGBT, Contraceptives, Masturbation, Pregnancy and all forms of sex. Let us face it whether we like it or not children are curious and are having sex earlier and earlier. Children should be taught the joys and the consequences of having sex ( Pregnancy, STD, AIDS and others.) But you say when will this be taught. Cut out Geography or History early on then put it back in and remove Geometry or Algebra. They can learn this in college if needed. I believe this is a solution. Stopping the damage before it starts so that Bullying, Sexual Assault, and many others will be greatly diminished if not eradicated. It is my belief that when children graduate with these principals where they are taught RESPECT for themselves and others and to take RESPONSIBILITY for their actions. If children grow up with these principals I believe business and government would benefit greatly. Within a few generations

10:24PM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

-- David K. -- I think that you are correct, and as Allen J. pointed out, this problem comes down to a lack of human respect, which is something learned from the adults operating in the lives of these students. Children who bully are often themselves bullied by their parents, and as a result have low self-esteem. One cannot respect others if they do not respect themselves, and if your parent tells you, by word or deed, that you do not deserve respect, you believe it, and then pass that message on to others.

We all must do everything that we can to impact the lives of children around us in a positive way, but this applies to parents and teachers most especially. If we do not find a way to break the cycle of bullying we stand very little chance of advancing as a society.

9:09PM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

Shoving into lockers. Tripping, grabbing, kicking, punching. These are physical attacks that should be dealt with immediately by school officials. It doesn’t matter if the bully is attacking because of the victim’s sexual orientation, “nerdiness”, race, religion, or anything else. It’s assault, which is illegal.

School guidance counselors (as well as the rest of the staff) need to be taught how to deal with bullying because it’s obvious a lot of parents don’t give a damn. Listen to the victims, talk to the bullies. Don’t automatically blame the victim. One child I know was physically bullied simply because of hair color. I’m surprised school officials didn’t say, “Just die your hair.” And don’t single out the victim. When I was bullied, a school administrator brought the bullies into the office (with me) and asked, “Are you bullying her?” Of course, they said no, but the looks they gave me turned my blood cold. The administrator told me it was all my imagination. I was fortunate, because they realized I was going to stand up for myself, so they stopped.

If a victim is afraid to name the attacker, don’t simply walk away. Sometimes victims are afraid of retribution. The bully—and his/her friends—will escalate the physical violence.
As the article says, victims don’t want money. We want the bullying to STOP. We want to be treated like every other student. We want to feel sa

11:22AM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

I made a video about why Homosexuals should have equal rights. It’s at my YouTube channel Zarrakan, and here’s the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdK5ETOJusw

Watch it, share it, and join the fight against the evil Homophobes.

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