WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal today applauded the introduction of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
SNDA, which was also introduced in the last Congress, would prohibit discrimination against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
In addition, SNDA prevents discrimination against students because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom that student associates or has associated. SNDA was introduced by Reps. Jared Polis, (D-Colo.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
"All students, including LGBT students, deserve equal opportunity to a solid education and all of its benefits,” HRC president Chad Griffin said. “School is where young people learn, grow, and develop mentally and emotionally. It’s a space that must be free of discrimination and intimidation. Unfortunately too many are harassed, bullied, and discriminated against causing many to underperform or drop out.”
"Throughout this country, far too many students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and their peers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," Rep. Polis said. "Bullying is a leading cause of poor attendance and dropping out because kids don't feel safe enough to go to school. Like Title VI for racial and ethnic minorities in the 1960s and Title IX for women in the 1970s, 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. This bill will ensure that every student has the right to an education free from harassment and violence."
“As a member of the Congressional Anti-bullying Caucus and the Equality LGBT Caucus, I am proud to join Jared in the re-introduction of this important legislation that seeks to protect LGBT students against harassment and discrimination,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said. “No one has the right to victimize others on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Our schools should be learning environments in which students yearn to attend rather than dread. As a former Florida certified teacher, I understand how children can carry the scars of bullying well into adulthood. LGBT students should enjoy safety as all children do. This pro-equality legislation will do just that and I’m proud to reintroduce it. ”
Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, urged passage of the bill.
"Ahead of GLSEN's National Day of Silence when thousands of students across the country take a stand against bullying in support of LGBT students, we are reminded of the many LGBT youth who feel like they do not have a voice because of the bullying and discrimination they experience in school. At Lambda Legal, we've encountered horrendous 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,” she said.
"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,” Gorenberg said. "We thank Senator Al Franken, Representative Jared Polis and other sponsors for their leadership on this important bill and we urge Congress to pass it."
HRC’s recent survey of LGBT youth reinforces the need to pass SNDA: Among youth who are not out at school, the most frequent obstacle they describe is that teachers or classmates will treat them differently or judge them. 64% of LGBT teens (compared to just 47% of non-LGBT teens) report that they never participate in afterschool or other recreational activities out of fear of discrimination. Youth who are out to their immediate family or at school report higher levels of happiness, optimism, acceptance and support.
LGBT youth experience bullying at school more frequently than their non-LGBT peers. In fact, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers. Among LGBT youth, 51% have been verbally harassed at school, compared to 25% among non-LGBT students; 48% say they are often excluded by their peers because they are different, compared to 26% among non-LGBT students; and 17% report they have been physically attacked at school, compared to 10% among non-LGBT students.
LGBT youth also identify bullying as a primary problem in their lives. They identified family rejection (26%), school/bullying problems (21%) and fear of being out or open (18%) as the top three problems they face. In comparison, non-LGBT youth identified classes/exams/grades (25%), college/career (14%) and financial pressures (11%) as the top three problems they face. Clearly, LGBT youth spend time worrying about bullying and rejection, while their non-LGBT peers are able to focus on grades, career choices and the future.
Federal statutory and/or constitutional protections expressly address discrimination in schools on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability, but do not expressly address sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, students and parents have limited legal recourse to redress discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
SNDA is closely modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and provides legal recourse to redress such discrimination.