Adam Polaski

LGBTs Push for Education Act with Anti-Bullying Policies

Filed By Adam Polaski | November 02, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, anti-bullying, bullying, Education Reauthorization Act, LGBT advocacy, PFLAG, safe schools

CapitolHill.JPGLast week, the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011 passed out of committee without language from either of two anti-bullying bills that had been promoted by LGBT advocates.

Today, a number of LGBT advocacy organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined together in requesting that the anti-bullying language be incorporated into the Reauthorization Act before it is approved. The groups include: the ACLU, the Family Equality Council, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Lesbian Rights National, the Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, and PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The Washington Blade has more on why the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network did not sign on.

They've released a letter urging lawmakers to include anti discrimination policies that include LGBT students in the Reauthorization Act. Read the full text of the letter after the jump.

Despite the strides we've seen in the past year and a half of greater, more pervasive discussions about bullying in schools, anti-LGBT bullying hasn't gone away. In the past month I feel like I've read more and more appalling instances of anti-LGBT bullying in schools or even anti-LGBT beatings among adults. I don't believe the actual number of incidences has increased significantly, but rather that our community's documentation skills have become stronger and more thorough. This documentation can be used as evidence that members of the LGBT community - even if they're only perceived to be members of the LGBT community - continue to be targeted for this mark of difference. It's ridiculous that a federal education bill that already includes anti-bullying language could not be successfully extended to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

There's something to be said about whether legislative anti-bullying polices are really the best method of defraying the impact of peer-to-peer name-calling and harassment in schools. But that may be a conversation for a different day - today, many public institutions in the United States education system have no policies regarding LGBT students. That translates to a lack of understanding on the part of the teachers and faculty, which can result in students who are unable to turn to their own teacher for information about the feelings they're experiencing in the early stages of discovering sexuality. Without this important anti-bullying training that pays attention to sexual orientation and gender identity just as it would to race, gender, age, or size, many adults in the school system will continually fail in working to protect kids from harassment - and have an excuse for this failure.

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi:

As legal and advocacy organizations committed to ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("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 ("ESEA") Reauthorization Act of 2011, which we do not support in its current form.

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. 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. While we recognize and appreciate the leadership of some members, including Senators Casey and Franken, who have been tireless in their advocacy on behalf of all students, including those who are LGBT, this reauthorization fails to ensure that LGBT students have access to a public education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.

This failure comes despite overwhelming evidence establishing a compelling need for action at the federal level. LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools. A 2009 study of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students across the U.S. found that nine out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly one-third skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. It is critical that the federal government and schools act to address this very serious problem facing LGBT youth, and that they do so in a manner that does not rely on overly punitive school discipline policies which worsen the problem of the school- to-prison pipeline.

Federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability and national origin. Yet there are no express protections on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This reauthorization is the ideal vehicle to rectify this shortcoming in federal law and the absence of such a provision simply ensures that such discrimination and harassment will continue.

We share the concerns of numerous civil rights organizations, business groups, and education officials regarding the reauthorization's weak federal accountability system, which will have a particularly harmful impact on students with disabilities, low-income students, students of color, and English-language learners and migrant students. LGBT students, of course, are also included among each of these categories, further heightening our concern. We recognize the importance of attaching federal funding to firm and ambitious demands for higher achievement, high school graduation rates, achievement-gap closing, and other barriers to learning for all student subgroups. To be effective, this must also be coupled with measurable achievement and progress targets, and the availability of tailored federal interventions and remedies when necessary for more than just a small percentage of the very worst performing schools. Unfortunately, this reauthorization, in its current form, will permit far too many low- achieving students across the country to slip through the cracks, without any federal accountability.

We hope to work with both of you, as well as other senators, to address our significant concerns as this process continues to move forward.

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union
Family Equality Council
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Lambda Legal
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)


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