Student-bullying bill introduced in Senate

U. S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) last week introduced a bill that seeks to prohibit anti-LGBT bullying at the federal level.

Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act was cosponsored by 22 legislators, including Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D).

The bill, introduced May 20, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — both actual and perceived — in public schools. The measure would allow students facing anti-LGBT harassment to take legal action and would prevent public schools found to be discriminating against LGBT students from receiving federal funds.

“Kids need to feel safe in their schools in order to learn,” Franken said. “Our nation’s civil-rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin. My proposal corrects a glaring injustice and extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who need them just as badly. No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied.”

According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, more than 85 percent of LGBT students say they have been harassed in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than 60 percent feel unsafe in their classroom settings.

GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard said SNDA “will send a clear message to schools that they must address the hostile environment many LGBT students face in schools.”

Out Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the measure in the House in January, and it now has 107 cosponsors, including Pennsylvania Congressmembers Bob Brady (D-1st Dist.), Michael Doyle (D-14th Dist.) and Joe Sestak (D-7th Dist.).

In addition to the litany of LGBT organizations advocating for SNDA, a host of mainstream agencies are also supporting the measure, such as the American Federation of Teachers, NAACP, American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association.

Franken’s bill comes shortly after Sen. Casey announced earlier this month that he plans to introduce the Senate version of the Safe Schools Improvement Act — which would mandate that schools work to combat all forms of bullying, including anti-LGBT harassment. A spokesperson for Casey said last week the senator will submit the measure “soon.”

Casey’s measure would require school districts to develop student-conduct policies that prohibit bullying and harassment, implement anti-bullying prevention strategies and develop data-collection processes to track incidents of bullying. Bullying is defined in the bill as conduct motivated by such factors as a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act was introduced in the House by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) last May and now has 112 cosponsors, including Pennsylvania Congressmembers Chris Carney (D-10th Dist.), Brady, Doyle and Sestak.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].