Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives ignored the opportunity to include important protections for LGBT youth in our nation’s chief education law.
During House consideration of the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), an amendment was offered by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) that contained provisions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act. This measure would require school districts receiving federal funding to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated on a party-line vote.
On Tuesday, the Student Non-Discrimination Act was filed as an amendment by Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), but the House Rules Committee blocked it, not even allowing for a vote by the full House. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT students are subject to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. They have been deprived of equal educational opportunities in schools in every part of our nation. Numerous social science studies demonstrate that discrimination at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement among LGBT youth. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people.
Federal statutory protections address discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and disability. Unfortunately, federal civil rights laws do not expressly protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Decades of civil rights history shows that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups.
The U.S. Senate is also working on a reauthorization of ESEA, so they will soon have an opportunity to advance these critical protections for LGBT students. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) also plan to offer an amendment to include the Student Non-Discrimination Act in this important law.
HRC will continue to work with our allies in Congress to ensure that LGBT students have access to safe and inclusive educational environments.