HRC Blog

LGBT Students in Public Schools Would be Safer with Student Non-Discrimination Act

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today thanked Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) for putting LGBT young people first by introducing the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in the U.S. Senate.  SNDA would prohibit discrimination against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  SNDA would also prevent discrimination against students because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom that student associates or has associated.  SNDA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year by Reps. Jared Polis, (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

"All students, including LGBT students, deserve equal opportunity to a solid education and all of its benefits,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “School is where young people learn, grow, and develop mentally and emotionally.  It’s a space that must be free of discrimination and intimidation. Unfortunately too many are harassed, bullied, and discriminated against causing many to underperform or drop out.”   

“No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe,” said Sen. Franken. “Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability, and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school. I’m also pleased my provision is now a part of the education bill that will soon be debated in the Senate Education Committee.”

HRC’s recent survey of LGBT youth reinforces the need to pass SNDA: Among youth who are not out at school, the most frequent obstacle they describe is that teachers or classmates will treat them differently or judge them.  Sixty-four percent of LGBT teens (compared to just 47% of non-LGBT teens) report that they never participate in afterschool or other recreational activities out of fear of discrimination. Youth who are out to their immediate family or at school report higher levels of happiness, optimism, acceptance and support.   

LGBT youth experience bullying at school more frequently than their non-LGBT peers.  In fact, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers.  Among LGBT youth, 51 percent have been verbally harassed at school, compared to 25 percent among non-LGBT students; 48 percent say they are often excluded by their peers because they are different, compared to 26 percent among non-LGBT students; and 17 percent report they have been physically attacked at school, compared to 10 percent among non-LGBT students. 

LGBT youth also identify bullying as a primary problem in their lives.  They identified family rejection (26 percent), school/bullying problems (21 percent) and fear of being out or open (18 percent) as the top three problems they face.  In comparison, non-LGBT youth identified classes/exams/grades (25 percent), college/career (14 percent) and financial pressures (11 percent) as the top three problems they face.  Clearly, LGBT youth spend time worrying about bullying and rejection, while their non-LGBT peers are able to focus on grades, career choices and the future. 

Federal statutory and/or constitutional protections expressly address discrimination in schools on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability, but do not expressly address sexual orientation or gender identity.  As a result, students and parents have limited legal recourse to redress discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

SNDA is closely modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and provides legal recourse to redress such discrimination.

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