Post submitted by Paul Guequierre, HRC Deputy Communications Director
HRC today applauded the re-introduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) in the U.S. House by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA). SSIA 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 actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The Act would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
“Bullying remains an epidemic in our schools and occurs at alarming rates based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We thank Congresswoman Sanchez for her continued leadership in protecting our nation’s young people by once again introducing the Safe Schools Improvement Act.”
“We owe it to our children to protect them and make sure they have a safe and comfortable learning environment at school,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez. “We are failing our students if they are afraid to come to school because they face daily threats and intimidation. Bullying can destroy a student’s self-esteem and wreck their academic progress. No child deserves to be bullied or harassed, and it’s time we made this violent and destructive behavior a relic of the past.”
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.
Currently 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, have enacted laws prohibiting harassment and/or bullying of elementary, middle school, and high school students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Every other state, with the exception of Montana, has a law prohibiting bullying in schools but lists no categories of protection. Lack of enumeration often effectively means a lack of protections for LGBT students.
HRC’s recent survey of LGBT youth reinforces the need to escalate the effort to end bullying and harassment. The survey found over half of LGBT youth (54 percent) say they have been verbally harassed and called names involving anti-gay slurs. While non-LGBT youth say their top concerns are classes and getting into college, LGBT youth rate bullying as one of their top worries.
The HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program provides elementary schools with professional development, family engagement tools, and classroom strategies to embrace family diversity, avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying and name-calling. Currently, 193 schools in 31 school districts across the country are using Welcoming Schools. For more information, visit www.welcomingschools.org.
Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) re-introduced SSIA in the Senate in February.