Strengthening School Safety through Prevention of Bullying
July 8, 2009
This morning at 10 a.m. the House Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities will hold a joint hearing to examine strategies for improving school safety, including ways to prevent violence, bullying and harassment. Studies show students are more likely to succeed academically and graduate when learning environments are free from harassment and violence. This is particularly true for LGBT students, those perceived to be LGBT or children of LGBT parents. Addressing bullying is critical to making our schools welcoming for all students. Testifying at the hearing will be:
- Josie and Jackie Andrews, Students and School Safety Advocates, Haddon Heights, NJ
- Rona Kaufmann, Principal, William Penn Senior High School, York, PA
- Dr. Scott Poland, Professor and Coordinator, Suicide and Violence Prevention Office, NOVA Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Steve Riach, Founder and Board Chairman, Heart of a Champion Foundation, Dallas, TX
- Cassady Tetsworth, Vice Chair, National Youth Advisory Board, Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), Greensboro, NC
- Kenneth S. Trump M.P.A., President, National School Safety and Security Services, Cleveland, OH
- Sirdeaner Walker, Mother of Bullied Child, Springfield, MA
HRC President Joe Solmonese submitted written testimony [pdf] to illuminate the need for a focus on anti-LGBT bullying that you can read after the jump...
Written Statement of Joe Solmonese, President, Human Rights Campaign To the Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities Committee on Education and Labor, United States House of Representatives July 8, 2009 Chairman Kildee, Chairwoman McCarthy and Members of the Subcommittees: My name is Joe Solmonese, and I am the President of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. On behalf of our over 750,000 members and supporters nationwide, I thank you for holding this important hearing and am honored to submit this statement regarding the critical need to address school safety and bullying prevention for LGBT youth. The Human Rights Campaign supports measures that prohibit discrimination, including bullying and harassment, against students because they are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Schools should be supportive and nurturing places where all students can learn and grow. But for too many LGBT youth, they are places filled with name-calling, ostracism, and violence. Left unchecked, such environments can lead to tragedy, as in the cases of California middle school student Lawrence King, who died in 2008 at the hands of a classmate who objected to his sexual orientation and gender expression, and of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an eleven-year-old student in Massachusetts who took his own life earlier this year after suffering months of anti-gay bullying, and whose mother is before you today to share her story. School officials must have the tools, as well as the responsibility, to prevent future tragedies, protect LGBT students and maintain and safe places for all of our nation’s youth. The Safe Schools Improvement Act, H.R. 2262, would provide public school administrators with that critical guidance and protect all students against bullying and harassment. I urge Members to take the lessons learned from today’s hearing and work to pass this critical legislation. Bullying Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is Widespread While bullying impacts students of every background, LGBT youth face some of the most severe and pervasive abuse. In its biennial National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has documented the disturbing scope of this problem. In the 2007 Survey, nearly 90 percent of LGBT students reported experiencing verbal harassment and nearly half (44%) also experiencing physical harassment and almost a quarter (22%) suffering physical assault. Over 60 percent of those students reported feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation and nearly 40 percent felt unsafe because of their gender expression. Just this month, the National Education Association released “A Report on the Status of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People in Education: Stepping Out of the Closet, into the Light,” a comprehensive assessment which similarly documents the severity of bullying facing LGBT students. For example, the report cites a study by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education demonstrating that gay and bisexual young men are threatened at school at alarming rates – over 20 percent more than their heterosexual peers. It is unacceptable that any young person experience fear and violence in school. The evidence clearly demonstrates that LGBT students are particularly vulnerable to bullying and efforts to make schools safer for all youth must take into account the pervasive harassment and violence that centers on students’ real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Bullying Harms Academic Performance and Puts LGBT Youth at Risk The consequences of bullying are not simply bruised feelings and bruised bodies. Studies show that LGBT students who experience harassment at school have poorer academic performance, increased truancy and a higher risk of suicide. For example, the Massachusetts study cited in the NEA’s report shows that lesbian and gay students who are threatened with violence are less than half as likely to be getting passing grades. The same study shows that lesbian and gay youth attempt suicide at a rate three to four times that of their heterosexual peers, and that those who experience physical threats are nearly three times more likely to attempt suicide than those who do not. Today’s testimony by Sirdeaner Walker, and the stories of students like Lawrence King and Jaheem Herrera, are further compelling evidence that bullying can lead to the most dire of consequences. However, the evidence also shows us that school policies and programs that protect and support LGBT students have a positive impact on their lives and their academic performance. That same Massachusetts study found that lesbian and gay students who attended a school with an LGBTinclusive policy on bullying and harassment were more than three and a half times more likely to get As and Bs. It is crucial that schools have policies, training and resources that make LGBT students feel safe and school officials able to address bullying and its consequences. That is why mainstream education groups – including 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 – support federal legislation that would require schools to have bullying and harassment policies that protect all students, including LGBT youth. Conclusion Harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students is unacceptable, and violence against them is unconscionable. Yet, every day, young people across the nation experience epithets, threats, exclusion and physical assault in the classrooms and hallways. Their grades suffer, they skip school, and, sometimes they take their own lives. Congress must act to protect these vulnerable young people and ensure that all students can learn and grow without fear that they will be targeted simply for who they are.