by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), an anti-bullying bill, in the U.S. Senate on May 20.
The measure would prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under provisions of the bill, public schools that permit bullying and other discrimination could lose federal funding or be sued by victims.
There are currently 22 co-sponsors, including both of Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. All are Democrats.
Franken's bill is the Senate companion to legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) on the House side in January.
Polis' bill now has more than 100 House co-sponsors, including Washington Reps. Jim McDermott (D-7) and Jay Inslee (D-1).
Franken says he and others are still working on how the law would actually define discrimination against Gay and Lesbian students. He says people will know it when they see it, however.
"I think that once we raise awareness about this and have a law, that it'll bring down the incidence of this and make life a lot better for these kids," said Franken.
More than 86% of LGBT students report harassment at school because of their sexual orientation, and 60.8% feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, according to a 2007 National School Climate Survey commissioned by GLSEN.
The harassment clearly affects students' ability to learn. Almost a third of LGBT students (32.7%) missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe - five times higher than a national sample of all students.
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.
"It's time that we extend the protections of our nations' civil right laws to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender students across the country," Franken said. "No student should be subjected to the ridicule and physical violence that LGBT students so often experience in school. It's time we demanded equal treatment for all of our children under the law."
SNDA is endorsed by more than 25 LGBT, education, civil rights, medical, and social justice organizations including GLSEN, American Civil Liberties Union, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, Interface Alliance, NAACP, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Council of La Raza, and School Social Work Association of America.
Franken was elected by a very narrow margin - only 312 votes - in November 2008, and was not sworn in until July 2009 after several recounts and court hearings.
He serves on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Indian Affairs Committee, and the Special Committee on Aging.
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