As President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a group of students, parents, teachers and other concerned citizens — including Fort Worth’s own Joel Burns — at the White House today, Openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced identical bills, called the Student Non-Discrimination Act, in the House and the Senate that would protect students from discrimination and harassment based on “actual or percieved sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In an e-mail announcing the proposed legislation, Polis cited recent efforts by school officials in Flour Bluff High School, near Corpus Christi, to prevent a gay-straight alliance from meeting on school grounds.
“It’s bad enough when a school turns a blind eye to bullying. But when a school district in Texas moved to ban all extracurricular clubs in order to avoid having to approve a Gay-Straight Alliance, it really crossed the line,” Polis said in the e-mail. “The school itself became the bully.”
He added, “Our message is clear: Pick on somebody your own size.”
Polis acknowledged that “the odds of this bill passing this session are uncertain” because some Republicans, “regardless of their personal beliefs, are reluctant to vote for LGBT-friendly legislation.
“But, even though the odds are against me, I can’t stay silent in the face of bullying — especially when the people who are supposed to protect students from bullying have become the bullies themselves,” Polis said, encouraging individuals to become “citizen sponsors” by adding their name as a supporter here.
The ACLU has quickly come out in support of the legislation, with ACLU legislative representative Ian Thompson saying that the legislation could have “a profound impact in improving the lives of LGBT students in our schools.”
Thompson pointed to the numerous LGBT teens who committed suicde after being bullied relentlessly in the late summer and fall of 2010 as evidence of the need for the legislation. Seth Walsh, 13, was one of those teens, and his mother, Wendy Walsh, is an ACLU client. She, too, weigh in today on the need for the SNDA.
“I can’t bring my son back. But schools can make a difference today by taking bullying seriously when students and parents tell them about it. It’s time for change. We have to create better schools for everyone,” said Wendy Walsh, who was also among those attending the White House Conference on Bullying.
In a written statement released after the SNDA was introduced, ACLU officials pointed out that while federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin, no federal statute explicitly protects students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“The SNDA, like Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the various disability civil rights statutes, is not simply legislation that would remedy discrimination after it occurs, but instead would also have the important impact of preventing discrimination from occurring,” the ACLU statement said.