Education Secretary Arne Duncan ducked a question Friday on whether the Obama administration was prepared to endorse LGBT anti-bullying legislation as the White House prepared for a screening of the movie “Bully” in the afternoon.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade during a White House news conference, Duncan declined to say whether the administration was ready to endorse the Student Non-Discrimination, or SNDA, but touted the administration’s work on the issue and called for solidarity in confronting student harassment.
“We have to continue to do everything we can to make sure that there is zero tolerance for this,” Duncan said. “I met with one of the young women in the movie this morning with her father. It was very personal for me and for the president because we all have children going to school now.”
Duncan said an “unprecedented level” of work has taken place under the Obama administration on bullying, citing the first-ever White House summit against bullying in March 2011 and what he said was the passage of state anti-bullying laws throughout the country.
“I’ll tell you, some of my toughest meetings have been with parents who have lost their children or committed suicide due to the impact,” Duncan said. “So, we all have to continue to work together.”
Pressed to clarify on whether the Obama administration was prepared to endorse legislation, Duncan didn’t answer and took a question from another reporter.
SNDA would prohibit and harassment in public elementary and secondary schools based on a student’s actual or perceived LGBT status. No federal law explicitly prohibits harassment against LGBT students in school.
Duncan ducks the question on SNDA as the White House was set to host a screening of “Bully,” a 2011 documentary about school bullying that follows the lives of five students who were bullied on a daily basis.
The screening takes place on the “National Day of Silence” on which students take a day-long vow of silence representative of the silencing of LGBT students and their supporters.
LGBT advocates have been pressing Obama to endorse SNDA for some time. In a letter dated March 7, a group of 70 organizations — including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network — to place the full support of his administration behind the bill.
Administration officials, such as Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, have previously said the administration supports “the goals” of SNDA, but have stopped short of endorsing the bill.