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Federal Protections for LGBT Students in Schools? Senate Says Nope

'The inability to put in place meaningful protections for some of our most vulnerable children is an enormous disservice to LGBT students,' stated Franken.

 At a July 4 parade in Sonoma, California, a young person holds a picture of Adam Kizer, who committed suicide after facing years of bullying at school.  He was 16 and had come out as bisexual.  (Photo: Sarah Stierch/flickr/cc)

It is a "simple bill," said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). "It stands for the principle that LGBT kids have a right not to be bullied just because of who they are."

But on Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass that Franken-proposed legislation, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).

The senator's website sums up what the measure would do:

  • Establish a comprehensive federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • Provide protections for LGBT students and ensure that all students have access to public education in a safe environment free from discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence; and
  • Provide meaningful and effective remedies (loss of federal funding and legal cause of action for victims) for discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

But with 52 "yeas" and 45 "nays," the amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act fell short of the 60 needed to advance. The 45 "nay" votes all came from Republicans.

In an op-ed published ahead of the vote, Franken and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, lay out some of the struggles and trauma LGBT youth may face:

It's our responsibility as adults to protect all children. And we know that a significant number of young people across the country are being bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network [GLSEN], more than 30% of LGBT kids report missing a day of school in the previous month because they felt unsafe.

On top of that, 25% of LGBT students have been physically hurt by another student because of their sexual orientation, 55% of transgender students report physical attacks based on their gender identity or gender expression, and 28% of LGBT youth drop out of school because of harassment.

These are staggering statistics, and they underscore two important things. First, it's nearly impossible for a student to learn if he or she is afraid to go to school. And second, we need to take action.

Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, Franken stressed: "What we're seeing is more than just bullying—we're seeing discrimination."  He continued:

If a black child was referred to by a racial slur at school, would we say, "kids will be kids"?

If a Jewish student got beat up because he wore a yarmulke to school, would we wave it off and say, "boys will be boys"?

If a shop teacher told a female student that she didn't belong in his class, would we be fine if the school just looked the other way?

No. We wouldn't. In fact, there are federal civil rights laws that are specifically designed to stop this kind of conduct.

But if a gay child is relentlessly harassed by his classmates, if a principal tells a girl that she can't go to her senior prom because she wants to bring another girl as her date, or if a school just stands by as teachers, students, and other administrators refer to a transgender child as not he or she but "it"-there is no law that was written to protect those children. Our laws fail those children. And that is just wrong. But we can change that.

GLSEN, the advocacy organization cited by Franken and Weingarten, joined the senator in expressing disappointment with the measure's defeat.

"The federal government has an established role in protecting students from discrimination based on sex, race and religion. We call on Congress to codify non-discrimination protections into law for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The evidence is clear and compelling that LGBT students need those protections," stated GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard,

The LGBT civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC) similarly decried the amendment's failure to advance.

"Although a solid majority of Senators voted for this vital legislation, we are deeply disappointed that Republican leaders insisted on a super majority 60 vote threshold for passage," HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said in a press statement. "Every child deserves to learn in an environment free from discrimination and harassment, including those who are LGBT.

"Seven fair-minded Republican Senators joined every Democratic Senator in favor of protecting our nation’s kids from discrimination based on who they are. It’s time for Senators who voted against equality to put politics aside for the sake of our nation’s youth and instead reflect the strong support among the American people for these vital protections," Stacy continued.

Franken added in a statement Tuesday after the vote: "The inability to put in place meaningful protections for some of our most vulnerable children is an enormous disservice to LGBT students all across the country who face terrible bullying every day."

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