U.S. House Holds Hearing on Strengthening School Safety

by HRC Staff

Human Rights Campaign submits testimony in support of LGBT youth, oftentimes unprotected in their schools.

Washington - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today thanked U.S. House Education and Labor Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities for holding a hearing on the importance of improving school safety. The joint hearing was titled "Strengthening School Safety Through the Prevention of Bullying" and examined ways to prevent violence and harassment in young students.

"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," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, in written testimony submitted in the record. "School officials must have the tools, as well as the responsibility, to prevent future tragedies, protect LGBT students and maintain safe places for all of our nation's youth. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would provide public school administrators with that critical guidance and protect all students against bullying and harassment."

Sirdeanear Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, was a featured witness at the hearing. Last April, 11-year-old Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Mass., hanged himself after a period of prolonged school bullying, which included anti-gay taunts. Walker-Hoover's mother said she reported the bullying to school leaders multiple times, but was met with inadequate responses.

"In 2009 alone, there were numerous tragic news accounts of young people taking their own lives because of the amount of shame, fear, anxiety, and stress that bullying imposes," said U.S. Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA). "The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a critical piece of legislation that will help schools become the safe places they need to be for student to learn and grow. It is time we combat the outdated belief that bullying is a harmless rite of passage which downplays the seriousness of bullying. Bullying interferes with student's academic performance and school attendance and is often a major factor in students' decisions to drop out of school or to join gangs for protection."

"Schools must be safe places for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, so that they can learn without fear of being bullied or attacked," said U.S. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). "I am grateful for the witnesses who came today to testify about school safety, and I was especially pleased that Ms. Sirdeaner Walker could join us. She told the heartbreaking story of her 11 year old son Carl who committed suicide after being the victim of anti-gay harassment. I pledge to work with my fellow members of Congress to decrease incidents of bullying, harassment, and violence in our schools. We must start by finding better means of collecting and analyzing data so we can learn more about the problem and find ways to fix it once and for all."

Working to train educators on how to appropriately address LGBT issues, the Human Rights Campaign is in the second year of a three-year pilot of Welcoming Schools. The 'Welcoming Schools' guide is designed for use in elementary schools, and gives educators the tools to improving the school climate. It offers specific guidance on addressing anti-gay and gender-based name-calling, as well as ways to create an inclusive approach to family diversity. For more information, visit www.hrc.org/welcomingschools.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 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.

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