US bill introduced to protect LGBT students

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A bill was introduced in both the US House and Senate yesterday to protect LGBT students from discrimination, including harassment “based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” in public elementary and secondary schools.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), introduced by Sen Al Franken and Rep Jared Polis, would help put an end to the abuse of LGBT students in American public schools by extending federal civil rights laws to cover sexual orientation.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is strongly supporting the bill and is calling for “swift action” from both chambers.

A school in Texas recently banned all extracurricular clubs in a bid to stop a gay-straight alliance forming to encourage understanding between students.

“The Student Non-Discrimination Act would have a profound impact in improving the lives of LGBT students in our schools,” said Ian Thompson of the ACLU.

“As a country, we must do a better job of protecting LGBT students and ensuring their right to an education free of intolerance and harassment.

“So many LGBT students face daily discrimination and, too often, violence in our schools. It’s time to make a positive difference in their lives. The House and Senate should make passage of this bill a priority.”

LGBT campaigners say that recent suicides of young gay students from across the country demonstrate the need for the bill that would protect students struggling with their sexuality.

Thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh was one of those students. He had endured years of homophobic bullying at school before he hanged himself in September, dying nine days later.

He left a note expressing love for his family and friends, and anger at the school for bringing them “this sorrow.”

Seth’s mother, Wendy Walsh, and close friends report that teachers and school administrators were aware that Seth was being harassed and, in some cases, participated in the harassment, but brushed aside her complaints.

“Seth was a wonderful, loving child, and I loved him for who he was. 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 Ms Walsh.

Ms Walsh attended the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention on Wednesday and spoke in support of the SNDA at its introduction.

While federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, colour, 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 legislation would not only deal with discrimination when it occurs, but also help prevent it from occurring in the first place, supporters say.