Legislation reintroduced in Congress to combat school bullying
May 7, 2009
On Tuesday, Representatives Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262) in the U.S. House, legislation to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Act, which would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (part of the No Child Left Behind Act), would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. Just last month alone, two eleven-year-old boys, Carl Joseph Walker Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, took their own lives after suffering bullying by classmates who perceived them to be gay. As Joe Solmonese stated, their deaths remind us of the true costs of anti-LGBT school bullying and harassment to our families and communities. In the wake of these tragic deaths, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students, continues to work with school administrators and educational policy makers to reduce the number of students that are targeted for school bullying, particularly based on one's actual, or perceived, sexual orientation or gender identity:
Two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. The top reason was physical appearance.
"As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language," Byard said. "From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers. In many cases, schools and teachers either ignore the behavior or don’t know how to intervene."
Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students.
In most cases, the harassment is unreported. Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students (60.8%) who experience harassment or assault never reported the incident to the school. The most common reason given was that they didn’t believe anything would be done to address the situation. Of those who did report the incident, nearly a third (31.1%) said the school staff did nothing in response. While LGBT youth face extreme victimization, bullying in general is also a widespread problem. More than a third of middle and high school students (37%) said that bullying, name-calling or harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at their school, according to From Teasing to Torment. Bullying is even more severe in middle school. Two-thirds of middle school students (65%) reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41% said they felt very safe at school.
Bullying and harassment of students who are, or are perceived to be, LGBT is widespread. While current federal law provides important support to promote school safety, it does not comprehensively and expressly focus on issues of bullying or harassment, and in no way addresses the challenges faced by LGBT youth in our nation’s schools. Numerous education, health, law enforcement and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association. HRC stands with GLSEN in calling upon Congress to quickly pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
May 17, 2013