LGBT Youth - Fairness and Equality at School

Author: The Human Rights Campaign
Published: Wednesday 11th February 2015
Summary: With LGBT Youth Twice As Likely To Experience Verbal Harassment, Exclusion, and Physical Attack at School, Student Non-Discrimination Act reintroduced in Congress.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act - a bill that would prohibit public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity - was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). With LGBT youth twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion, and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the bill as a critical step towards ending harassment and discrimination of LGBT youth.

"No student should face discrimination or harassment at school just because of who they are or who they are perceived to be," said David Stacy, HRC Government Affairs Director. "We urge Congress to act on this legislation quickly to help make an immediate and critical difference in the lives of our nation's LGBT youth."

"We commend Senator Franken and Representatives Polis, Ros-Lehtinen, and Scott for their unwavering commitment to ensuring that all students have access to safe and inclusive schools."

"Kids need to feel safe in their schools in order to learn," said Sen. Franken. "Right now, our civil rights laws explicitly protect children from bullying due to race, sex, disability, and national origin. But they don't stop discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Our legislation fixes this injustice and extends essential protections to LGBT youth in Minnesota and across the country. No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied."

"Every single child deserves a quality education that is free from discrimination and prepares them for college and a career," said Rep. Polis. "It's simply unacceptable that in 2015, there are thousands of students who face bullying and harassment every day when they get to school simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity."

The Problem

LGBT students are subject to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence. They have been deprived of equal educational opportunities in schools in every part of our nation. Numerous social science studies demonstrate that discrimination at school has contributed to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement among LGBT youth. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people.

Federal statutory protections address discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and disability. Unfortunately, federal civil rights laws do not expressly protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Decades of civil rights history shows that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups.

What is the Student Non-Discrimination Act?

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) prohibits public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, SNDA prohibits discrimination against any student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated. Further, retaliation for lodging a complaint of discrimination is prohibited.

The bill allows an aggrieved individual to assert a violation of these prohibitions in a judicial proceeding. In addition, the SNDA allows federal authorities to address discrimination made unlawful by the bill. The SNDA is modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and provides legal recourse to redress such discrimination.

Growing Up LGBT in America

LGBT youth experience bullying and harassment at school more frequently than their non-LGBT peers. In fact, according to an HRC survey in 2012, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers. Among LGBT youth, 51 percent have been verbally harassed at school, compared to 25 percent among non-LGBT students; 48 percent say they are often excluded by their peers because they are different, compared to 26 percent among non-LGBT students; and 17 percent report they have been physically attacked at school, compared to 10 percent among non-LGBT students.

LGBT youth also identify bullying and harassment as a primary problem in their lives. They identified family rejection (26 percent), school/bullying problems (21 percent) and fear of being out or open (18 percent) as the top three problems they face. In comparison, non-LGBT youth identified classes/exams/grades (25 percent), college/career (14 percent) and financial pressures (11 percent) as the top three problems they face. Clearly, LGBT youth spend time worrying about bullying and rejection, while their non-LGBT peers are able to focus on grades, career choices and the future.

Growing up LGBT in America is a 2012 survey of more than 10,000 LGBT teens (ages 13 – 17) across the country on what life is like for them in America today. This is the largest known survey of LGBT youth ever conducted. It includes LGBT youth from every region of the country, from urban, suburban and rural communities, and from a wide variety of social, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Learn more

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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