“I stopped going to school four months before graduation because I couldn’t handle the bullying anymore. I will not get to attend my senior prom, and…throw my graduation cap in the air.”
Harassment and bullying in schools are widely understood to be pervasive nationwide problems. But as the above quote from an LGBT student highlights, for LGBT young people the situation can be especially severe. Yesterday the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in public schools, was both reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and included in Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) proposed education bill updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Studies show that this kind of legislation is sorely needed. The most recent Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey found that in the past year alone, more than eight in ten LGBT students had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation and more than six in ten because of their gender expression. The majority of students who were harassed did not report it to school staff, believing that nothing would happen if they did – or that the situation could get even worse.
As one student shared,
“Bullying in our school is mostly verbal, but it hurts just as much as any physical pain… Teachers rarely do anything about it.”
Those who were harassed frequently had lower GPAs and were less likely to say they planned to go on to college or other post-secondary education. Many LGBT students reported missing class because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, with nearly one in three LGBT students missing at least one full school day in the past month.
When harassment at school is associated with missed classes, lowered grades, shifted educational ambitions, or even depression, it can have long term implications for the wellbeing of LGBT youth. No student should face this kind of hostility at school because of who they are or who others perceive them to be.
Today People For the American Way joined with more than eighty other national and state organizations in sending a letter to all members of Congress asking for support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). SNDA, which was reintroduced in the House today by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would prohibit discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.
As the letter notes, the need for this type of legislation is profound:
“A 2011 study of more than 8,500 LGBT middle and high school students across the US found that eight out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and three-fifths said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly three in ten skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. Most tragically, LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools.”
Today a Florida eighth grader named Bayli put a face on these alarming numbers, telling the Huffington Post that her friends regularly face bullying because of their sexual orientation:
“Watching it tear apart my friends is what scared me the most. It's not right, I don't like it, and I don't [like seeing] my friends going through it.”
PFAW has long spoken out on the pervasive problem of bullying, including tracking the work of right wing anti-anti-bullying activists. With the majority of LGBT young people reporting that they do not feel safe in their own schools, the need for action only continues to grow. Discrimination and harassment of LGBT youth has no place in our nation’s classrooms.
Not long ago, this video could not have been made. It’s because so many people worked so hard over the past 18 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue could be raised so openly from within the armed forces. And all of our work on It Gets Better and safe schools will be better for it.
Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
On the occasion of GSA Day 2012, when we celebrate the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bringing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.
Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121
- Celebrate Gay-Straight Alliance Day by supporting and cosponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
- Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
- Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
- Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
- When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
- As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
- This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.
More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. You can check for your senators on the list here and if one or both of your senators are on it, please make your call a “thank you” call.
Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.
On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.
The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?
Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.
GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.
Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.
S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.
On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.
In 2002, upon completing eighth grade at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, MI, Matt Epling was the victim of a hazing assault by upperclassmen. Roughly forty days later, presumably still reeling from the aftermath of the incident, Matt committed suicide. In the years since, friends and family have honored his memory by fighting for the passage of Matt’s Safe School Law.
The latest iteration of this legislation passed the Michigan Senate on November 2. But instead of protecting students like Matt from bullying and harassment, SB 137 creates a potentially dangerous religious exemption.
This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.
The First Amendment and the fundamental constitutional rights and principles it encompasses deserve our utmost respect and a passionate defense. But to exempt religion in this way is not the answer.
Matt’s father, [Kevin Epling], expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”
Or as Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, once said:
This is an issue of behavior, not belief.
Fix SB 137 by removing the exemption clause, adding statewide reporting requirements, and adding enumerated protections for categories such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.