Monday, February 1, 2010

Arriving close behind the heels of Obama’s pledge to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), a student-oriented version of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is currently in congress, which would protect public school students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2010 (SNDA) was introduced by Colorado Democrat and openly gay Congressman Jared Polis in the House of Representatives last Thursday, and currently has 60 original co-sponsors.

(Map of Anti-Bullying Laws in the U.S.)

Polis has said about the bill that “Every day innocent students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and fellow students based on their sexual orientation. These actions not only hurt our students and our schools but, left unchecked, can also lead to life-threatening violence. Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s, my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear.”

Considering high school drop-out rates of LGBTQ youth are often overlooked when it comes to naming the core or most pressing LGBTQ issues, in favor of topics like marriage and ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ (though those are important as well), I feel the introduction of the bill is a promising step for legal equality and protection. More importantly, it will aid in keeping students in school so that they may get an education and which in turn can help keep youth off the streets. There is currently no federal law that protects students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, like there are for protected categories of sex (Title IX), race (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which applies to public accommodations), and disability (Rehabilitation Act, ADA).

Is it needed? Absolutely. GLSEN reports that 86.4% of LGBT students who responded to a 2007 school climate survey said they had been harassed in the past year while 60.8% said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. While 14 states enumerate protection for students on the basis of sexual orientation and an additional 10 supply protection on the basis of gender identity, students in most states are without direct protection of state law.

(With a link to the SNDA fact sheet).

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