For too many of our children, attending school can be a frightening experience. In fact, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN’s) 2013 National School Climate Survey found that within the past year 74.1% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and 55.2% because of their gender expression; 36.2% reported being physically harassed because of their sexual orientation and 22.7% because of their gender expression; 16.5% reported being physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation and 11.4% because of their gender expression. The survey also found that 56.7% of students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, most often believing that little or no action would be take or the situation could become worse if reported. And 61.6% of the students who did report an incident said that the school staff did nothing in response. As parents, families and friends, we need to do something to make schools safer for all students, including our LGBT loved ones.
Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) of 2015
SNDA was reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO-02) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27) on February 10, 2015. The Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was debated on the Senate floor on July 14, 2015, with Senator Franken offering SNDA as an amendment to this legislation to ensure that all students in public K-12 schools across the country are protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This critical amendment, which would have ensured that LGBT students are able to obtain an equal and adequate public education, was defeated, attaining only 52 of the 60 votes needed to pass. You can see video of the debate on SNDA here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4544349/snda
What this Bill Will Do:
SNDA would establish a comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It would provide protections for LGBTQ students and ensure that all students have access to public education in a safe environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence. SNDA would also provide meaningful and effective remedies (loss of federal funding and legal cause of action for victims) for discrimination in public schools modeled after Title IX. To learn more about Title IX, please visit PFLAG National’s Claim Your Rights web resource center.
What you Need to Ask for:
Ask your Members of Congress to support this bill and to vote for it if it comes to the Floor, especially if they serve on the House Education and Workforce Committee or the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Be sure to encourage them to include SNDA in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill. If they are not a co-sponsor of the bill, ask them to support it by co-sponsoring. If they are already a co-sponsor please thank them. If you work for or with a local school community, please contact the PFLAG National Office to learn how you can help advance this important legislation.
PFLAG Talking Points:
LGBT students face discrimination, harassment, and even physical abuse daily in school. A nationwide 2013 survey of nearly 7,900 students between the ages of 13-21 found that 55.5% of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. More than 30% of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Surveys indicate as many as nine in ten LGBT students have been bullied, and that LGBT youth are bullied two to three times more often than non-LGBT students.
Because of these high levels of victimization, LGBT students experience worse outcomes than their cisgender and straight peers including lower self esteem, lower GPAs, a higher rate of drop outs, and a lower likelihood of attending college.
Discrimination harms our students and our education system. Every day, students who are, or who are perceived to be LGBT are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence, which is harmful to both students and our education system.
LGBT students lack legal protections. While federal civil rights statutes expressly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin, they do not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity and, as a result, LGBT students and parents have often had limited legal recourse when they experience discrimination. Having explicit non-discrimination policies protecting students who are or are perceived to be LGBT gives teachers and administrator the tools they need to protect all students.
The bill cultivates respect which will create safer schools. The bill provides language ensuring that all students have a safe learning environment which helps reduce the nation’s growing drop-out rate. Research shows that bullying and harassment are serious problems that impede students’ academic progress and overall mental health. Left unchecked, discrimination can lead, and has led, to life-threatening violence and to suicide. When school officials engage in discriminatory treatment, or are indifferent to harassing behavior, LGBT students’ constitutional rights are infringed upon.
The bill is in the first stage of the legislative process where it is being considered in the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee where it may undergo significant changes in markup sessions.
A broad range of social service, professional and advocacy organizations have expressed support for this legislation including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American School Counselor Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, the National Women’s Law Center, and the School Social Work Association of America.
Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2015
This bipartisan bill was reintroduced in the Senate as S. 311 by Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and Sen. Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL) on Jan. 29, 2015. As of publication, this Senate Bill has 27 cosponsors.
What this Bill Will Do:
SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act—part of the No Child Left Behind Act—and instruct school districts to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes specific enumeration for sexual orientation and gender identity as well as require states to include bullying and harassment data in the surveys conducted statewide to distinguish what needs are unmet in their schools.
What You Need to Ask For
Ask your Members of Congress to support this bill, especially if they serve on the House Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. If they are not a cosponsor of the bill, ask them to become a cosponsor.
PFLAG Talking Points
A broad range of educational and non-educational organizations have expressed support for the SSIA, including the American Library Association, the National PTA, the American Federation of Teachers, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, GLSEN, and the National Council of La Raza.
Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2015
This bill was introduced in the House as H.R.1421 by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI-02) and in the Senate as S.773 by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on March 18, 2015. At the time of this publication, this bill has 38 cosponsors in the House and eight cosponsors in the Senate.
What this Bill Will Do
The 2015 bill prohibits public school students from being excluded from participating in or being discriminated against in any federally-assisted educational program on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It also authorizes federal departments and agencies to enforce these prohibitions by cutting off funding to education programs found to be violating them.
What You Need to Ask For
Urge your senators and representatives to become a cosponsor of a bill that will make schools safer for all students, especially if they are in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce or the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. If they have already cosponsored the bill, make sure to thank them.
PFLAG Talking Points
Students need to be able to assert their rights. This bill allows students to take a violation of this Act to court if they are excluded, discriminated against, or harassed.
We need a clear definition of harassment. This bill defines harassment as any action that impedes a student’s learning process and creates a hostile environment at an institute of higher learning.
Schools need to be held accountable. This bill motivates schools to tackle discrimination and harassment by authorizing federal departments and agencies to cut off funding to education programs found to be violating the Act.
At the time of this publication, there are 38 cosponsors in the House and eight cosponsors in the Senate.
This bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Department of Education
Students experiencing bullying or harassment because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity may feel helpless and unsure of how to advocate for themselves. As parents, families and friends, we try our best to protect our loved ones from these circumstances.
For those willing to advocate for a loved one being bullied, it’s important to remember to not only contact your school administrators, but also to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. By filing a complaint, you can not only help the Department of Education better understand the problems of bullying and harassment in the classroom, but also help them craft recommendations on how to prevent and address future bullying and harassment that occurs in the classroom. File a grievance with the Department of Education.
Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools For All
For too many of our children, attending school can be a frightening experience. A recent study found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience some form of mistreatment in school. As parents, families, friends, and allies we need to do something to make schools safer for ALL students.
PFLAG National created the Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools For All initiative, which seeks to provide support, education, and advocacy to students, parents, families, friends, and educators to help them create a learning environment that is conducive to the educational success of all students. PFLAG chapters are in their communities working directly with schools and their stakeholders to provide support, resources, training, model policy, and creative programs to create this environment of respect.
Learn more about this program.
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