Legislators Should Protect LGBT Children at School

by on November 19th, 2010
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Every child deserves a safe, secure school environment. Federal law currently protects students from harassment based on race, gender, religious beliefs, disability and national origin. However, it may surprise you to know that current laws do not protect students from harassment due to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Senator Al Franken and Representative Jared Polis are hoping to change that fact with passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).

A Growing Problem
Nearly 5 million American children under the age of 18 are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Studies continually point to higher rates of dropout, absenteeism, depression and suicide in this group of students. The majority of LGBT children say they have been harassed at school and have recently skipped classes because they don’t feel safe. SNDA would require schools to protect these students from bullying and threats — or face the loss of federal funding. You may be thinking, “All children are subject to being bullied.” That’s true; however, a growing trend currently targets LGBT children. Perhaps that’s because laws to protect them aren’t in place.

Legislation Is a Start
Teachers can attest to widespread anti-gay bullying, particularly in middle schools and high schools. Unfortunately, the ACLU reports that there are even incidences in which teachers, school administrators and staff members are the perpetrators. More effort needs to be exerted at every level to eliminate violence and bullying in schools. Obviously, harassment of LGBT students – or any other students – won’t stop as soon as a bill is passed, but it is a step in the right direction. When teachers and administrators are given a means of recourse, they are better equipped to deal with bullying issues.

Don’t Make It Political
The legislation Franken and Polis propose should be non-partisan. It’s not about personal beliefs; it’s about protecting our most precious assets, our children. Senator Franken’s online video highlights a 15-year old Minnesota boy, Justin, who hanged himself after years of anti-gay bullying at school. Jamey Rodemyer, a 14-year old boy from Buffalo, New York, was inspired by Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” He, in turn, gave hope to other LGBT children in his YouTube video, “It Gets Better.” But it didn’t get better for Jamey; he took his own life in September when the torture at school just wouldn’t stop. Sadly, Justin and Jamey’s stories are all too familiar in our country. It’s difficult to imagine why anyone would oppose safeguards for all children at school.

Elected officials need to support SNDA legislation that targets the rampant bullying of LGBT students in our schools. If you would like to urge your senator to favor this bill, you can call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121. Teachers, parents and community members alike can join in to protect our children.

Karen LoBello has a B.S. degree in Elementary Education and an M.S. in Computer Education. Her experience includes over 25 years of teaching.

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