Today, on the National Day of Silence, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) held a press conference call to announce that they have reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would help protect public school students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Also participating in the press conference call were Director of the Human Rights Campaign Family Project Ellen Kahn, Bayli Silberstein, an 8th grade student from Florida who attempted to create a Gay-Straight Alliance to combat bullying she and her friends faced as well as Becky Collins, the mother of Zach Collins, who was brutally beaten in Chillicothe, Ohio for being openly gay.
"Throughout this country, far too many students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and their peers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). "Bullying is a leading cause of poor attendance and dropping out because kids don't feel safe enough to go to school. Like Title VI for racial and ethnic minorities in the 1960s and Title IX for women in the 1970s, my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and receive a quality education, free from fear. This bill will ensure that every student has the right to an education free from harassment and violence."
"I thank Jared for his leadership in introducing this pro-equality legislation that seeks to put an end to discrimination against LGBT students in public schools," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). "Schools should be places where our kids can learn and thrive, and that are free from persecution and harassment. LGBT students are often verbally harassed due to their sexual orientation. It is important that we strive to make sure that LGBT students enjoy safety as all children do."
"The bullying at my school had gotten really out of hand," stated Bayli Silberstein, a Florida 8th grader who led a campaign to establish a gay-straight alliance at her school. "Lots of kids, including me, were being bullied and treated badly just for who we are. When we tried to start a club to fight the anti-gay bullying, I'm glad that I had a lot of support from my family and friends and people all over the country to convince the school that this issue matters. But not all kids have that support, so I'm glad this bill is being filed to make sure kids all over the country are protected."
"Students have a right to be safe in school, no matter who they are," said Becky Collins of Ohio. "My son and I came forward with our story so no other family will have to go through what we did. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will be an important step to make sure schools take bullying and harassment seriously, so others who report problems are not ignored like we were."
"All students, including LGBT students, deserve equal opportunity to a solid education and all of its benefits," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "School is where young people learn, grow, and develop mentally and emotionally. It's a space that must be free of discrimination and intimidation. Unfortunately too many are harassed, bullied, and discriminated against causing many to underperform or drop out."
Rep. Polis first introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in 2010. During the 112th Congress, the Obama Administration took an official position on the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), stating their support.
"I commend Congressman Polis, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, and Senator Franken for their efforts to curb discrimination and bullying in our nation's schools especially against LGBT students," said Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. "We must continue to work together to make our schools safer and more productive places for students to learn."
The bill would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also forbid schools from discriminating against LGBT students or ignoring harassing behavior. Modeled after Title IX, violation of SNDA would result in the loss of federal funding and give victims a legal cause of action for discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, the bill over 110 original cosponsors in the House, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
"No young person should ever feel unsafe or unwelcome at their school, but this is the case for many LGBT students in cities and towns across our country," said Rep. David Cicilline, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. "The Student Non-Discrimination Act is a pragmatic proposal that would create stronger protections for LGBT youth and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in our public schools. I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation that will help ensure that every child in America can learn in a safe environment."
"Every student deserves to learn in an environment where they feel safe and are free to reach their full potential," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. "But every day, LGBT students across the country are subjected to widespread discrimination and bullying that poisons our school culture, deprives our students of their sense of safety, and--all too frequently--has tragic and devastating consequences. We must take meaningful, immediate, action to end discrimination against LGBT youth in schools. I stand strongly behind the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the millions of LGBT students it would help."
"I'm proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) as far too many students are being harassed, bullied, intimidated or subjected to violence because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation," said Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. "By establishing a comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools, SNDA will help create a safe learning environment for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation."