HRC Blog

President Obama Endorses Bills that are Critical for Safe Schools

White HousePresident Obama is throwing his support behind the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).

SNDA is sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in the House of Representatives. SNDA would prohibit public elementary and secondary schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. SSIA is sponsored by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the Senate and by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) in the House.  The bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act 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.  This is the first time the President has expressed his support for either piece of legislation.

Discrimination and bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity contributes to high dropout rates, absenteeism, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people. Federal statutory and/or constitutional protections expressly address discrimination 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 for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite recent inaccurate criticisms of the bill by Heather Wilson, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in New Mexico, the SNDA does not inhibit constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and expression for individuals and student groups.   Language in SNDA recognizes that nothing in the Act alters the legal standards and rights available to individuals or religious and other student groups under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.  SNDA prohibits discrimination, including severe, persistent or pervasive harassment; it does not prevent an individual or organization from expressing disagreement with an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

HRC applauds the President for his support.

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