Two pieces of proposed federal legislation could make schools safer for all students at risk for being bullied, including LGBT students. At a press conference on November 18 U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which protects students from harassment, bullying, and violence based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The SNDA has 29 Senate cosponsors. Its companion bill authored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo) also enjoys broad support.
Franken was joined at the conference by Minnesotan Tammy Aaberg. In July 2010 her 15-year-old son Justin committed suicide after prolonged bullying at school about his being gay. Aaberg told the audience that she had never realized the torment Justin had experienced until his friends told her. She discovered the Anoka-Hennepin School District provided no definitions of LGBT bullying or guidelines for intervention. That bullying would go unchecked in the presence of teachers and staff. And that school policy prohibited classroom discussion on any matter related to sexual orientation.
“Too often this kind of bullying gets swept under the rug. And the sexual orientation policy currently in place only serves to perpetuate the feelings of isolation that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students already feel,” Aaberg said.
The second piece of legislation was introduced by U.S Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SISA) is a federal anti-bullying bill that protects students based on race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. Casey was joined by 16-year-old Joey Kemmerling of Pennsylvania. He too talked about prolonged bullying and anti-gay violence, including a student who threatened him with a knife. Joey asked school officials to respond, but they didn’t.
Joey recalled the student coming up to him and looking him in the eyes. “I didn’t know who he was. But I knew that he hated me,” Joey said. “And he said, ‘Your life is in my hands.’”
The Casey bill, like the Franken bill, has widespread support with 130 cosponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.
And in Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports the Minnesota School Board Association is advising school districts to expand their harassment and violence policy to specify LGBT students and other vulnerable groups. The MSBA recommendation counters a belief held by many (including Gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer) that parents, not schools, should teach kids not to bully LGBT students.