Yesterday (29th), the Human Rights Campaign, the U.S.’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the bipartisan reintroduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). SSIA would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts, in states that receive ESEA funds, to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion.
David Stacy, HRC Government Affairs Director stated:
“All of our nation’s children deserve to learn in environments free from harassment and bullying. Bullying and harassment of LGBT students – as well as students perceived to be LGBT – is heartbreakingly widespread and leads to dangerous situations that no young person should have to face. This bill would go a long way in helping to change that sad reality and make an important difference in the lives of so many of our nation’s youth.”
“Bullying is a challenge that impacts far too many children and families across the country,” said Senator Casey. “Right now only 17 states have anti-bullying laws that contain protections for members of the LGBT community- that has to change. With the advent of text-messaging, social media, and social networking, many children find they cannot escape the harassment when they go home at night. It follows them from the moment they wake until the moment they go to sleep. This legislation will ensure that school districts across the country take proactive steps to combat bullying and protect children.”
“1 in 4 kids have been bullied more than once, and with my Student Leadership Advisory Board in Illinois we are working on ways to end bullying and cyberbullying in Illinois and across the country,” said Senator Kirk.
“Every child deserves a safe environment, free of harassment, in which they can learn.”
While current federal law provides important support to promote school safety, it does not comprehensively and expressly focus on bullying or harassment and in no way addresses the unique challenges faced by LGBT youth. SSIA would require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. The Department of Education would then be required to provide Congress with a report on the state reported data every two years.
Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBT youth contribute to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. LGBT youth experience bullying at school more frequently than their non-LGBT peers. In fact, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers. Among LGBT youth, 51 percent have been verbally harassed at school, compared to 25 percent among non-LGBT students; 48 percent say they are often excluded by their peers because they are different, compared to 26 percent among non-LGBT students; and 17 percent report they have been physically attacked at school, compared to 10 percent among non-LGBT students.
LGBT youth also identify bullying as a primary problem in their lives. They identified family rejection (26 percent), school/bullying problems (21 percent) and fear of being out or open (18 percent) as the top three problems they face. In comparison, non-LGBT youth identified classes/exams/grades (25 percent), college/career (14 percent) and financial pressures (11 percent) as the top three problems they face.
Numerous education, health, law enforcement and youth development organizations support federal legislation to combat bullying and harassment, including the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Health Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association.
The House version of the bill is expected to be introduced soon by Representatives Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Chris Gibson (R-NY).
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.