President Obama backs bullying bills

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    On a day in which LGBT supporters were encouraged to remain silent to take a stand for safer schools, the Obama administration spoke out in favor of legislation that seeks to alleviate anti-LGBT bullying.

    On National Day of Silence April 20, the White House announced it was officially backing the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The administration had expressed support for the measures in the past but previously stopped short of a full endorsement.

    The first bill would prohibit bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity at all schools that receive federal funding. The second piece, spearheaded by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, would require schools to establish uniform anti-bullying policies, which would be, among other stipulations, LGBT-inclusive.

    White House LGBT spokesperson Shin Inouye said in a statement last Friday that President Obama is “proud” to support both measures, which he said would “ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

    Dr. Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, said the president’s support gives “greater hope to students who often feel that they have nowhere to turn. It is deeply moving to know that LGBT students who face the multiple threats of harassment, violence and discrimination have the president as an ally in their efforts to win all of the protections they deserve.”

    Education secretary Arne Duncan also released a statement last week in support of the measures.

    “Bullying can no longer be seen as a normal rite of passage,” he said. “As a country, we must all work together to take action against bullying and improve the safety climates of our schools and communities.”

    In a blog posting last Friday, Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, detailed a number of recent White House antibullying initiatives — such as the creation of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and the launch of an online antibullying resource guide.

    Jarrett said the next step will be the passage of both pieces of antibullying legislation.

    “We hope that Congress will take action to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment,” she wrote.

    Joy Horner, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, said the endorsements could be integral in protecting LGBT students.

    “I am proud of the Obama administration for making a commitment to providing safe schools to students across the country,” Horner said. “The administration’s support of these bills marks a key stamp of approval and continues to highlight the need for making schools a safer place for all — including LGBT students.”

    SNDA was first introduced in 2011 by out Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). The House version has 157 cosponsors, including Pennsylvania Congressmembers Bob Brady (D-1st Dist.), Mike Doyle (D-14th Dist.), Chaka Fattah (D-2nd Dist.), Todd Platts (R-19th Dist.) and Allyson Schwartz (D-13th Dist.), while the Senate measure has 37 cosponsors, including Casey.

    Last month, a coalition of 70 organizations, including LGBT- and youth-service organizations, issued a letter to the president calling on him to endorse SNDA.

    Casey’s Safe Schools measure was initially introduced in 2010 and again last spring.

    The current bill has 39 cosponsors. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is not among the legislation’s supporters.

    The companion House measure, led by U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez, has 147 cosponsors, including Platts, Brady, Doyle and Fattah.