05.20.10

Leahy Joins Franken, Others To Introduce Student Non-Discrimination Act

WASHINGTON Senator Patrick Leahy on Thursday joined Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and 21 other senators to introduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students from harassment, bullying, and violence at school.

“The Student Non-Discrimination Act will ensure that under federal law, all public school children are protected equally from discrimination.  Children deserve a safe environment where they can learn the skills and knowledge necessary to be good citizens,” said Leahy.  “I urge all senators to come together to support this important bill to ensure that all of our students are given the opportunity to succeed, free from harassment or discrimination.”

“Kids need to feel safe in their schools in order to learn,” said Franken.  “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.”

In 1993, Vermont enacted legislation to protect school children from harassment based on sexual orientation, and in 2007, the law was strengthened to protect against harassment based on gender identity.  Nine other states and the District of Columbia protect school children from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.  The Student Non-Discrimination Act makes clear that it would not preempt state laws such as those in Vermont, which provide additional protections and remedies.

Surveys indicate that nearly nine in 10 LGBT students have been bullied, and a recent study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that LGBT youth are bullied two to three times more often than their heterosexual peers.  The harassment LGBT youth experience in school deprives them of equal educational opportunities by increasing their likelihood of skipping school, underperforming academically, and eventually dropping out.  The surveys also suggest it can also have a detrimental effect on their physical and mental health.  Left unchecked, this harassment can lead to life-threatening violence and suicide.
 
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  It would forbid schools from discriminating against LGBT students or ignoring harassing behavior. The legislation would also provide meaningful and effective remedies for discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, modeled after Title IX.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Committee On The Judiciary,
On The Student Non-Discrimination Act

May 20, 2010

I am proud to join Senator Franken in sponsoring the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2010 (SNDA), an important step in our march toward a more inclusive Nation.  This bill continues the civil rights work we began earlier this Congress when I offered the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the defense authorization bill last year.  The Student Non-Discrimination Act will ensure that under Federal law, all public school children are protected equally from discrimination.  Children deserve a safe environment where they can learn the skills and knowledge necessary to be good citizens.

More than 55 years ago, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court reaffirmed our Nation’s commitment to justice and equal rights for all Americans by ending racial segregation in our public schools.  A unanimous Court recognized that “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he [or she] is denied the opportunity of an education.  Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Congress continued on the path of progress by passing laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Education Amendments of 1972, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  These laws protected students in federally-funded public schools from discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, sex, and disability.  President John F. Kennedy said in 1963, “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers . . .  contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in . . . discrimination.”

Tragically, for far too long, U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to public school systems that tolerate or perpetuate discrimination, harassment, and even violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “now is the time to make justice a reality” for all of our children—now is the time for Congress to extend existing Federal protections against discrimination to all public school students.

The legislation we introduce today does just that by prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in public, non-religious, federally-funded schools.

Vermont has recognized the importance of creating a safe school environment for our children.  In 1993, the State legislature enacted a law to protect school children from harassment based on sexual orientation, and in 2007, the law was strengthened to protect against harassment based on gender identity.  Nine other states and the District of Columbia protect school children from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.  This legislation makes clear that it would not preempt state laws such as those in Vermont, which provide additional protections and remedies.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act also preserves our First Amendment freedoms of expression and religion.  The bill is narrowly tailored to comply with the Supreme Court’s First Amendment precedents.  It includes provisions that explicitly exempt parochial schools, and to make clear that religious groups in public schools continue to be protected by the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.

I urge my fellow Senators to come together to support this important bill to ensure that all of our students are given the opportunity to succeed, free from harassment or discrimination.

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