When the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act (ESEA) of 2011 last month, two anti-bullying provisions were noticeably absent. This week, a coalition of LGBT groups and allies is calling upon the committee to do better, arguing in a letter that the bill should not advance without protections for LGBT students:
Discrimination and harassment of LGBT students, and those perceived to be LGBT, is a serious problem in public elementary and secondary school districts across the United States. Despite this fact, the ESEA Reauthorization Act of 2011 fails to include any express protections for this vulnerable student population, or even to make reference to them. While we recognize and appreciate the leadership of some members, including Senators Casey and Franken, who have been tireless in their advocacy on behalf of all students, including those who are LGBT, this reauthorization fails to ensure that LGBT students have access to a public education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.
Sen. Franken (D-MN) has said he plans to introduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) as an amendment when ESEA is brought to the Senate floor. It is unknown if Sen. Casey intends to do the same with the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). Without either, the ESEA would have no specific mention of LGBT students and the unique challenges they face.
Among the signers of the letter were legal groups GLAD and Lambda Legal, family groups PFLAG and the Family Equality Council, the ACLU, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The Washington Blade notes that the Human Rights Campaign and GLSEN did not sign the letter, though both support SNDA and SSIA.