LGBT groups express ‘grave concerns,’ withhold support from education bill

CHRIS JOHNSON [e]Washington Blade[m]

Several LGBT organizations say they “do not support” the Senate version of education reform legislation as it currently stands due to the lack of protections for LGBT students and what they say is a rollback of federal accountability for schools.

In a letter dated Nov. 1, a group of eight LGBT organizations wrote to leaders on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee to express “grave concerns” about the Elementary & Secondary Education reauthorization bill and to withhold support from the bill.

“As legal and advocacy organizations committed to ensuring that [LGBT] students, as well as those who are perceived to be LGBT, have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment, we are writing to express our grave concerns with the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011, which we do not support in its current form,” the letter states.

The Senate HELP Committee passed the ESEA reauthorization bill on Oct. 20 with a bipartisan vote of 15-7. However, despite calls from LGBT advocates, measures providing explicit protections for LGBT students known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act weren’t included in the larger bill.

The letter has eight co-signers: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Family Equality Council, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund and PFLAG National. The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network are not among the co-signers.

The letter, addressed to Senate HELP Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), asks the senators to “address our significant concerns” as the legislative process moves forward

The signers criticize the lack of explicit protections for LGBT students in the education reform bill on the basis that studies have shown LGBT students are a vulnerable group and face a higher risk of suicide. The letter says the education bill, intended to update the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, is “the ideal vehicle” to address the problem.

“Discrimination and harassment of LGBT students, and those perceived to be LGBT, is a serious problem in public elementary and secondary school districts across the United States,” the letter states. “Despite this fact, the ESEA Reauthorization Act of 2011 fails to include any express protections for this vulnerable student population, or even to make reference to them.”

The groups write that the need for the federal government and schools to act to address discrimination and harassment of LGBT students “is critical.” Additionally, they urge that the action taken shouldn’t “rely on overly punitive school discipline policies which worsen the problem of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

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