Senator Kerry Co-Sponsors Bill To Protect LGBT Students

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March 27, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter

United States Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is the co-sponsor of legislation to combat the frequent harassment of students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) will provide lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) students similar civil rights protections against bullying and harassment as those that currently apply to students based on race and gender.

“In Massachusetts we’ve all wrestled with horrifying stories of bullying against gay students that ended tragically, and as a parent it’s heartbreaking,” explained Kerry. “I hope this legislation helps protect students and prevents future tragedies.”

Students who are (or are perceived to be) LGBT are much more likely to be harassed or bullied than non-LGBT students. Surveys indicate that nine in ten LGBT students have been bullied or harassed. Harassment increases their likelihood of skipping school, under-performing academically and eventually dropping out. It can also have an extremely detrimental effect on their physical and mental health. Left unchecked, this harassment can lead to life-threatening violence and even suicide.

However, while federal civil rights statutes expressly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin, they do not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, parents of LGBT students have limited legal recourse when schools fail to protect their children from harassment and bullying.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act will establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, provide meaningful remedies – such as loss of federal funding and a legal cause of action – for discrimination in public schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity, modeled on Title IX.

“What is great about (this bill) is it has a number of features that offer protections which extend beyond what we currently have in Massachusetts, even under the Anti-Bullying Law,” said Kara Suffredini, Executive Director of Mass Equality.

“It puts schools on notice that LGBT youth are a population which need to be protected,” Suffredini said, adding federal funding can be taken away from schools which do not comply with federal statutes.

“LGBT people pay taxes like everybody else, and our tax dollars shouldn’t go to institutions that discriminate against us,” Suffredini added.

In addition, the bill will prompt schools to avoid liability by taking proactive steps to prevent the discrimination and bullying of students protected by the bill.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act has won the backing of over thirty organizations, including the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Human Rights Campaign, National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The bill also has 31 co-sponsors in the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions after being introduced, according to a spokesman for Senator Kerry. No hearings have been scheduled yet.

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