Today, New York Governor David Paterson signed into law the “Dignity for All Students Act.” The act is a broad safe schools law that requires schools to adopt policies to address harassment and discrimination against students, to educate teachers and students on harassment and bullying and provides reporting requirements. Particularly notable is that the bill enumerates, or lists, classifications for protection including the basis of real or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender – defined to include gender identity and expression- and sex.
Enumerated laws have been shown to provide better actual protections to students and to make students feel safer in school. GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in school. By highlighting categories of vulnerable students, states send a strong message that all students are valuable and alerts students that they can seek help from teachers and the administration if they face harassment or discrimination.
The “Dignity for All Students Act,” passed by overwhelming majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, also marks the first time the New York Senate has passed legislation explicitly protecting trans people. The step bodes well for passage of the New York “Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act” which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination, harassment, and/ or bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.