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Student Non-Discrimination Act needed to protect LGBT students from bullying

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Casey, sixteen and gay, was being bullied by two students at his high school in Ohio. His youth pastor, a friend of mine, helped to secure a restraining order to protect him, but the principal downgraded the severity with a weaker solution. He let Casey come to the office five minutes before classes ended and stay until five minutes after they started — Casey would then be safe from bullying in the hall-passing time.

But one of Casey’s bullies was still in class with him.

Did this principal create a safe learning environment and protect Casey from abuse? Why did it even get this far? Why was there no policy in place to protect this child from bullying due to his sexual orientation or even his perceived sexual orientation?

No LGBT child in public schools in the United States is federally protected from bullying and harassment for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Shocked? This is true.

No Child Left Behind (2001), soon to be re-authorized after ten years in the updated Elementary and Secondary Education Re-Authorization 2011 (ESEA), made it out of committee in October 2011 without the bipartisan support it needed to include protection for LGBT students.

Currently, students are protected from bullying for: race, sex, religion, disabilities and national origin, but not sexual orientation or gender identity.

When the ESEA is brought to the floor of the Senate in either December or January, there is a push to attach the Student Non-Discrimination Act, HR 4350 (SNDA), to it.

SNDA includes comprehensive federal prohibitions against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It would forbid schools with public funding to discriminate against LGBT students or ignore harassing behaviors.

The bill was re-introduced, having not been
added in committee in ESEA, by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). (watch the video, grab a tissue.) Co-sponsored by 34 senators, it needs the approval of 60 senators to attach it to the ESEA before going to the House for a vote before it becomes law.

“Is it needed?” you may ask. Only 13 states have laws protecting LGBT students from harassment at school; this is not a surprising statistic when you also realize that 15 states do not even include sexual orientation and gender identity on the “hate crimes” list; in 29 states you can still be fired for being gay; and in 34 states you can be fired for being trans.

Come on, it is really necessary to pass another law? Lots of kids are bullied in school; that is “just the way it is.” Research shows highly rejected LGBT youth were at a very high risk for health and mental problems when they become young adults. Highly rejected LGBT youth were:

  • More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide;
  • Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
  • More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and;
  • More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.*

Knowing that the primary socializing institutions for children and youth are families, schools and faith communities, should we not try to make those places safer for children? This is not just a “family issue” for LGBT youth. Many of them are not even out in their own families.

As mysterious as that may seem, the biggest loss a child fears is family rejection so many will delay coming out to their own parents. Churches are well known sources of anti-gay rhetoric, leaving many children thinking they have only one protected place: school.

Now is the time to voice to your senators and representative that it is their duty as public servants to serve the most vulnerable of their constituents: LGBT children.

Tell them to get on record now in support of the Senate bill and the version that comes to the House. Any senator or representative that votes against the protection of vulnerable children should not hold that position of trust.

I am a Mom too, with two straight, adult children. I am a straight, Evangelical Christian compelled by my faith to stand for justice and against oppression. The argument of some conservative family groups and lobbies against this bill is the fear that this bill will “victimize people of faith by turning religiously-based, anti-gay comments into ‘thought crimes’ ” (Rep. John Kline R-Minn.). This is fear-based rhetoric. Anti-discrimination laws punish actions, not opinions or beliefs.

Who should care and act on this now:

  • Parents of LGBT children. There are over 350 chapters of Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) with over 200,000 members nationwide. Be the advocates you already are and tell your families and friends to insist on the addition of the SNDA in the ESEA.;
  • Educators who see the crises and have no guidelines under which to operate when they witness bullying of LGBT students. School boards will take seriously the loss of federal funding should they not enforce the law.;
  • Members of the LGBT community know the damage many of them suffered for being gay or perceived as gay.;
  • Christians are to take seriously the mandates of our faith to fight injustice and stand against oppression (oh, and toss in a good dose of helping the poor) Isaiah 58. A Christian who would consider blocking the protection of a child needs to consider deeply the examples of Jesus.;
  • Any parent that understands the difficulty of peer bullying in schools. Consider that the children that may not be yours suffer it more profoundly; look at those stats again for rejection of LGBT youth. Teach your children well.;
  • Conservative family groups need to hold to their own missions—protecting families which include LGBT youth. The irony of Family Research Council ignoring family research and producing policies directly impacting the health and mental wellness of LGBT youth is glaring. Focus on the Family really does need to focus on families and help families with LGBT youth. Concerned Women for America should be concerned about the children of women in America. Excluding LGBT children from the mission statements of those organizations shows severe bias which places religious beliefs over a higher calling of caring for the families and children that even the names of their organizations imply.;
  • Any person with even a modicum of wisdom that understands that all children desire the comforts of love, acceptance and security. Healthy children grow into healthy adults and build healthy societies.;

Bottom line: who should care that the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) be voted into
law as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Re-Authorization Act (ESEA)?

All of us. Partisan politics drives me crazy.

When I see a vote that goes right down party lines, I know the public servants are voting to maintain power and money balances and have succumb to party/special interest groups pressure.

Voting for the protection of children is
not a partisan issue.
Every public servant in this country should be protecting the least of these.

And what has become of Casey?

Along with his youth pastor, PFLAG stepped in to protect this child. The school administration knows they are being watched and are more cautious. This is what ESEA will do for all children and in all schools; it will strengthen the federal law to include the protection glbt students against bullying.

And, after five years of blocking a Gay Student Alliance (GSA), Casey’s school now has one and he is the president. He is safer.

Apply pressure and make your voice heard now. There are 90 million children in this country under 18 years of age, including approximately 4.5 million that are LGBT. Speak up for their safety and insist that the non-inclusion of SNDA at the committee level be corrected when ESEA comes to Senate vote in December or January. Insist and speak up for Casey and other LGBT students.

Recap:

Contact your senators and representatives and tell them that it is essential that the SNDA (HR 4350) become part of ESEA when it comes for vote in the Senate in December or January. It will expand the protection from bullying based on: religion, sex, national origin and disabilities to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity for LGBT students.

And stay on them, especially the Republicans who may be resistant to approve it. And big kudos to Al Franken, thank him too.

SAMPLE LETTER, using the links above to find your Senators and Representatives:

Dear ______,

It’s essential that the Student Non Discrimination Act ( SNDA HR 4350) become part of Elementary and Secondary Education re-Authorization Act (ESEA) when it comes for vote in the Senate in December or January. It will expand the protection from bullying based on: religion, sex, national origin and disabilities to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity for LGBT students. It would be a great sign of initial support for you to also co-sponsor this bill before it gets to the floor. The protection of our children should never be a partisan decision.

Thank you for VOTING TO PROTECT ALL STUDENTS FROM BULLYING.

* Family Acceptance Project, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, “Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children” (2009).

Opinions and advice expressed in our Views & Voices columns represent the author's own views and not necessarily those of LGBTQ Nation. We welcome opposing views and diverse perspectives. To submit a article, column or video, contact us here. Due to the volume of submissions received, we cannot guarantee publication.

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9 more reader comments:

  1. Heres a idea, Maybe the parents need to start teaching their damn kids right from wrong and take control of their children. When I was younger I never had these problems. Yes I got made of fun of or pikced on or whatever the case may be. But it didnt make me want to kill myself. I think there is more going on here than what we see or hear. And I tell you what I turned out just fine with the kids picking on me in school. I am 32 now. And I dont hold anything against anyone. So I also feel these kids need to toughen up as well. Stop being pussys and stand up for yourselves..

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 10:58am
  2. I came out to my parents two days ago, though I have before (more on that later) at the age of 28. At first I said I was transgendered then I just said gay male because to be honest I am not certain.

    In the past and today, I still get from my mom “oh, you THINK your bisexual.” My stepdad doesn’t talk to me, and my brother treats me like dirt (well worse than dirt but I don’t want to swear.) I live with all three and unfortunately I have no where to go until I finish school.

    Now, imagine how how an 11 year old feels. Or a 15 year old. Or even a 9 year old. I cry for these kids. I mean I don’t care so much for myself, but I cry for these kids because they have a bright future ahead of them if people would only be just a little more tolerant.

    Please, write to your senators, and representatives. Write to the President.

    Please continue to remind the youth, whether straight or GBLT that it does get better. I wish I had heard that early in my life.

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 11:04am
  3. nathan is a great example of what blatant ignorance. Probably doesn’t have kids either. it’s so easy to say shit when you have no idea what you are talking about. These kids are picked on to the point that there is no light in their lives. they feel as if society and their family hates them because of how they were born. No one knows what its like to be on the receiving end of LGBT bullying until you have witnessed it or been on the receiving end of it. CAn you imagine living in a world where the majority of people think that you are a mistake or a freak of nature or born with demon in you because you LGBT. I have 2 children that i’ve raised never to utter a anti-gay slur or a racist one. My kids are well rounded individuals who believe in EQUALITY FOR ALL because no one person is better than the other. Sadly most of the kids at their school do not think the same way. It’s not a matter of toughening up! It’s a matter of safety. When your mind fucked because of constant torture, sometimes death just seems a whole lot fucking easier to deal with. I will be an advocate for the LGBT community forever because of small minds and ignoranc

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 11:18am
  4. yea thats what these kids need. Us arguing. everyone is right. the parents need to step in, the school needs to step in. the whole communty needs to step in to make sure we don’t lose another one of these kids!

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 11:32am
  5. Yes; this is needed: Student Non-Discrimination Act needed to protect LGBT students from bullying

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 4:00pm
  6. May I ask everyone to talk about that so that oil can go to the USA, instead of China who do NOT at all respect gays but prisoned them! ???

    Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at 5:05pm
  7. i was one of those bullied kids. i spent the majority of my junior high years in hospital rooms- recovering from the constant abuse from students AND teachers alike. it was the 80′s and in a small village, beating the queer kid was just a-o-k!

    but, by the time i hit high school, my massive self-hate and depression took a strange turn… i decided to fight back… and i fought back hard and dirty.

    my advice to any kid- gay or straight- black or white- male or female or in between to learn how to fight back and protect yourself. look, you’re gonna get your arse beat anyway, you might as well get as many good licks in as you can.

    one last thought, there is nothing better than to have the cool school jock have to admit to his friends that some little gay dude whooped his arse. ;)

    Posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 6:52am
  8. Dear Nathan:

    You wrote that you, “turned out just fine with the kids picking on [you] in school.”

    I cannot agree with you on that, my dear Nathan. Anyone such as you who would suggest that victims of violent bullying should “Stop being pussys and stand up for yourselves”, did not turn out fine. No, Nathan, you did not turn out fine at all.

    Posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 at 1:29pm
  9. As a person who used to be bullied in middle school, I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. Therefore I created a petition asking President Obama to actively campaign and lobby Congress to pass the Student Non Discrimina­tion Act and Safe Schools Improvemen­t Act, which would help to prevent bullying in public schools, especially among LGBT teens. The only way to sign this petition is to click on the url link below, until the signature threshold reaches 150 signatures­, then it will become visible on the “We the People petition page”. You will also need to create an account once you get to this site in order to sign. This petition will ultimately need 25000 signatures by November 25, in order for the White House to issue an official response. Also, clicking on the link will NOT AUTOMATICALLY SIGN THE PETITION, you must create an account. Finally, once you create your account, you might have to log in three times, as the system is a bit temperamental. As a last resort, once you create your account, close the window without logging out and click on the link and you should be able t to sign. (I know this can be frustrating and tedious but its a worthy cause). Thanks to all for supporting this important issue, it means a lot. Pass the petition on their are only 10 days left! Here is the link:

    https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions#!/petition/endorse-safe-schools-improvement-act-and-student-non-discrimination-act-prevent-bullying/2x6XqVH9

    Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 2:09am