by Rep. Gary Peters
The April 8 issue of Between The Lines contained poignant and timely coverage on the problem of bullying in our schools. Bullying is a very real and very serious threat to student safety. Nationally, nearly one in six students is a victim of bullying, and statistics show that 30 percent of students in grades six through 10 are affected by moderate or frequent bullying.
Bullying actions contribute to high rates of academic underachievement, dropout and absenteeism and have been linked to increased rates of crime, suicide and school shootings. Prevention of bullying requires the efforts of students, teachers, parents and guardians, school administrators and law enforcement. I believe that federal and state lawmakers have a responsibility to enact effective legislation that will help protect students from harassment, bullying and discrimination.
All students deserve to feel safe at school. Unfortunately, students who are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are subjected higher rates of discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. Surveys indicate as many as nine in 10 LGBT students have been bullied. This is harmful to both students and our education system.
Harassment and bullying deprive students of equal educational opportunities. If school officials are indifferent to harassing behavior or engage in discriminatory treatment themselves, LGBT students’ constitutional rights are infringed. Existing civil rights protections specifically address discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. These protections do not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity and because of this, LGBT students and parents have often had limited legal recourse for this kind of discrimination.
This is why I have co-sponsored and strongly support HR 4530, the Student Non-Discrimination Act. This important legislation addresses this lack of protection and ensures that all students have access to public education in a safe environment that is free from discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act establishes a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and provides victims with effective and meaningful remedies, modeled after Title IX. This legislation would also protect the friends and allies of LGBT students, who are often targeted for bullying and harassment due to the support they provide their LGBT friends.
Specifically, the Student Non-Discrimination Act authorizes federal departments and agencies to enforce prohibitions on discrimination and harassment by cutting off the educational assistance of recipients found to be violating them. Additionally, students subjected to harmful discrimination will be able to assert violations of the Student Non-Discrimination Act in a judicial proceeding and recover reasonable attorney’s fees, should they prevail.
This important legislation is supported by a wide array of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Teachers, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, and a number of other teachers, administrators and civil rights groups.
In a manner similar to that of Title VI for minorities in the 1960s and Title IX for women in the 1970s, the Student Non-Discrimination Act ensures that LGBT students have the same educational opportunities as their peers. Hate has no place in schools. LGBT students should unequivocally be able to attend school and get a quality education while being free from fear of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
I am proud to be a member of the bi-partisan Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, a group comprised of members of Congress who are strongly committed to achieving equality for LGBT people in the United States and around the world. I will continue working with my colleagues to pass legislation ensuring equality for all people under the law, including ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA will make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, deny promotion, or otherwise discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Whether it is in the workplace or in our schools, our society must not accept discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.