Student Non-Discrimination Act

H.R. 846; S. 439

The Problem

Students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) 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.

What is the Student Non-Discrimination Act?

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) prohibits public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  In addition, the SNDA prohibits discrimination against any student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated.  Further, retaliation for lodging a complaint of discrimination is prohibited. 

The bill allows an aggrieved individual to assert a violation of these prohibitions in a judicial proceeding.  In addition, the SNDA allows federal authorities to address discrimination made unlawful by the bill.  The SNDA is 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.

Growing Up LGBT in America

In order to better understand the experiences of LGBT youth, the Human Rights Campaign conducted a survey of more than 10,000 LGBT teens (ages 13 – 17) across the country on what life is like for them in America today. The largest known survey of LGBT youth ever conducted, it includes LGBT youth from every region of the country, from urban, suburban, and rural communities, and from a wide variety of social, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. The results of the survey are troubling.

LGBT youth experience bullying and harassment 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 and harassment 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.

Broad Support

Numerous education, legal, health and civil rights organizations support the SNDA, including the American Association of University Women, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, the NAACP, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Council of La Raza, the National Education Association and the National Women’s Law Center.  

What is the Current Status of the Bill?

SNDA was introduced in the House by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) on February 10, 2015. On July 9, 2015, Sen. Franken offered SNDA as an amendment to S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act. Unfortunately, the amendment failed to receive the 60 votes needed to proceed, but it gained the support of every Democratic senator and seven Republicans.

For more information, please contact Read about other Federal Legislation pertinent to the LGBT community here.

Last Updated: October 15, 2015