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Rep. Polis introduces Student Non-Discrimination Act
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Rep. Polis introduces Student Non-Discrimination Act

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced legislation on January 27 to protect primary and secondary students from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

HR 4530 - the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) - was introduced with 60 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Washington State Democrat Jim McDermott - who represents Seattle, Vashon Island, and parts of Burien and Tukwila - is also a co-sponsor.

The bill was referred to the House Education and Labor Committee, of which Polis is a member. Hearings on the measure have not yet been scheduled.

"The Congress finds the following," the bill states:

"Public school students who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT), or are perceived to be LGBT, or who associate with LGBT people, have been and are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, and have been deprived of equal educational opportunities, in schools in every part of our Nation."

SNDA empowers federal departments and agencies to issue "rules, regulations, or orders of general applicability" to protect LGBT students from discrimination and to withhold federal funds from schools or programs that fail to comply.

The act also entitles students who are victims of discrimination or harassment to sue their state or local school authorities, and to collect damages "including but not limited to equitable relief, compensatory damages, cost of the action, and remedial action."

"Every day innocent students fall victim to relentless harassment and discrimination from teachers, staff, and fellow students based on their sexual orientation," said Polis. "These actions not only hurt our students and our schools but, left unchecked, can also lead to life-threatening violence."

"Hatred has no place in the classroom," Polis added. "Every student has the right to an education free from harassment and violence. This bill will protect the individual freedoms of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in our classrooms."

Existing federal civil rights laws expressly forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. They do not include sexual orientation or gender identity, however.

While 30 states have anti-bullying laws, only nine have laws expressly forbidding bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another four prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation only.

As a result, LGBT students and their parents have had little or no legal recourse for discrimination or harassment.

In his statement on Wednesday, Polis said that SNDA would continue the tradition of previous civil rights legislation.

"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," he said.

"I don't know how anyone could oppose this bill," said co-sponsor Jim McDermott of Seattle. "Every student in America should feel safe going to school and should never face harassment or the threat of violence."

"This issue is deeply important to me and I'm incredibly grateful to Rep. Polis for his leadership on this legislation. I hope that with the strong support we already have in Congress, we'll get this bill passed quickly," McDermott added.

Sixteen national advocacy organizations have also announced their support, including the ACLU, HRC, NGLTF, and GLSEN.

Before election to Congress, Polis chaired the Colorado State Board of Education.

He also founded two charter schools for at-risk students. In 2004, he established the New America School which serves immigrant youth ages 16-21 and has three campuses in the Denver Metro area. In 2005, he co-founded the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver to serve homeless youth.

Jared Polis was elected to Congress in 2008. He is one of three openly Gay US Representatives, the others being Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin.

Polis currently serves on the House Education and Labor Committee and on the Rules Committee. He is also a member of the powerful "Committee on Committees" - the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee - which makes committee assignments and sets the legislative agenda for House Democrats.

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