A group of 70 organizations is asking President Obama to build on his work against bullying in schools by endorsing legislation pending in Congress that would prohibit harassment of LGBT students.
In a letter dated March 7, the groups ask Obama to endorse the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, which 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.
“SNDA would provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) students with long overdue and much needed explicit federal protections against discrimination and harassment,” the letter states. “The legislation also protects students who associate with LGBT people, including students with LGBT parents and friends.”
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The organizations — led by the American Civil Liberties Union — include LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, as well as other groups, such as the American Psychological Association, the Feminist Majority and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Religious groups, such as the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ also signed the letter.
Obama has said he’s committed to combatting bullying and harassment in schools, but has yet to endorse legislation that would explicitly prohibit the bullying of LGBT students.
The letter asks Obama to endorse SNDA so that it has the same level of support from the White House as other pro-LGBT bills, such as the Respect for Marriage Act, which Obama endorsed in June, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“An endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act would likewise be a clarion call for equality in our schools and better protections for vulnerable children,” the letter states. “And more importantly, it would make clear to all Members of Congress what the administration views as a necessary federal legislative solution to the serious problem of anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment in our nation’s public schools.”
Groups send the letter to Obama ahead of March 10, which will mark the anniversary of the anti-bullying summit held at the White House in 2011. The event was seen as the hallmark effort of Obama’s commitment to combat bullying in schools.
Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, said an announcement in support of SNDA on the anniversary of the anti-bullying summit would have significant impact.
“An endorsement by the administration on the anniversary of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention would be a powerful statement from the administration that all students are entitled to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment,” Thompson said.
Other anti-bullying efforts the administration has undertaken include holding the first-ever federal LGBT youth summit in June and issuing guidance informing schools they may be violation of federal laws protecting students from harassment on the basis of gender by allowing anti-gay bullying. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials have also appeared in “It Gets Better” videos.
Just this week, the Departments of Justice and Education, together with six private plaintiffs and the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, came to an agreement on a consent decree to resolve alleged bullying and harassment of students who weren’t conforming to gender stereotypes.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said Obama supports the goals of the SNDA, didn’t offer full-throated support of the bill.