U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Students rally for LGBTQ protections in landmark education legislation

Polis, Baldwin, Ros-Lehtinen, Scott, and Takano author Student Non-Discrimination Act

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Washington, March 21, 2018 | comments

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.; and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. introduced 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.  The bill has over 100 cosponsors in total.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act is more necessary than ever, as the Departments of Education and Justice - under the guidance of President Trump, his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions – rescinded Obama Administration guidance on the rights of transgender students and refuse to investigate cases of discrimination against transgender studentsPolis, Ros-Lehtinen, and over 90 other members of congress recently asked the Dept. of Education to reverse course and investigate cases of transgender discrimination

“All students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe learning space and should feel comfortable at school,” said Polis.  “Congress needs to act and let all students know that we are on their side, and we not only believe everyone belongs - we believe that every child deserves a safe and civil learning environment.”

“Congress must make absolutely clear that every student, including LGBTQ youth, must have access to an education free from discrimination, harassment and bullying,” said Baldwin.  “As multiple federal courts of appeals have recognized, current law is properly understood to protect these young people.  But with the Trump Administration walking back the federal government’s commitment to equality, it is critical that Congress act to eliminate any doubt and ensure these students are protected from discrimination.” 

“As a former Florida certified teacher, I recognize that schools should be safe places where learning is the memorable experience students takes with them. I’m once again introducing the Student Non-Discrimination Act with my colleagues, Jared and Mark, to increase protections for LGBT students. We have seen too many cases of LGBT youth feeling unaccepted, and this can lead to depression, substance abuse, and, in some cases, suicide. We have the opportunity to make a difference by fostering a more inclusive environment for students to succeed,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

“School must be a place where all students feel welcome and safe. We know that LGBT students face higher rates of discrimination and bullying, both of which increases their likelihood of skipping school, underperforming academically, and dropping out. I am proud to cosponsor this important legislation that will ensure LGBT students have access to equal educational opportunities,” said Scott. 

“After more than 20 years teaching in California’s public schools, few things matter more to me than ensuring that every young person in America is able to attend a school free from fear and discrimination. That is why I am proud to join Rep. Polis as he reintroduces the Student Non-Discrimination Act. America’s LGBTQ youth often face harrowing discrimination in their schools — mistreatment that can impact their academic achievement and forever limit their success in life. At a time when three-quarters of LGBTQ youth report feeling unsafe in their school - and are twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ peers to experience harassment or violence - Congress must act to provide these young people with the protections they deserve. Every young person in America should receive an education that allows them to fulfill their potential in life, and this legislation is an important step to providing that education to our LGBTQ youth,” said Takano. 

The group of legislators drafted the legislation for students like Emma and Marc who have endured harassment at school. 

Emma, a student in Fort Collins said: “I am a student who identifies as part of the LGBT community. I have come out to my family and close friends, but just because they accept me doesn't mean my school does. Even if my school told me straight forward they accepted and supported me, that doesn't limit the actions of the individual students. I have overheard and been in the middle of conversations that are negative towards the community, and for the sake of keeping my identity safe, I don't speak out against it. Passing the act to protect LGBT students in their school environment will be at least a step towards treating comments that put down the LGBT community as any other rude and bullying comment.”

Marc, a student in Erie said: “I'm an LGBT student, and I've faced harassment on the bus coming home from school by my peers. I've been called tranny, yelled at, and watched others be yelled at as well. Because of this I have to wait another hour before coming home, change my work hours, and it's been very stressful on me. Passing the SNDA act would be a blessing. I'd be able to get home on time and ride the bus without fear of being attacked.”

Annabeth, a student in Fort Collins said: “This previous year, in honor of the nationally recognized Day of Silence, I chose to participate. I visually represented my choice with colored duct tape and a sign that read "Acceptance is the greatest form of Love". While sitting in the cafeteria, I was approached by a group of male students voicing insults. When I brought this issue to the attention of administrators, I was promised that actions would be taken. I was never notified of any action taken on my behalf. Being surrounded by a group of male students, in that manner, made me feel threatened. That day I felt that I was not safe in my own school. This new legislation would aid in the feeling of support for all students. I deserve to feel safe while at school.”

A national study of adolescents in grades 7 - 12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers. Further, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, negative attitudes toward LGBT youth put these students “at increased risk for experiences with violence, compared with other students.”

Numerous advocacy groups locally and nationally have championed the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

“All students should feel safe and welcome in their school. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young people across the country have the same protections in school that students enjoy here in Colorado. We hope all of Colorado’s congressional delegation will support the passage of this crucial legislation to address bullying in schools,” said Daniel Ramos, One Colorado. 

“As the President of the Fort Collins/Northern Colorado PFLAG chapter and an elected school board member for Poudre School District, I am thrilled to support the SNDA.  This Student Non-Discrimination Act will offer LGBTQIA students the same protections already enjoyed by every other student in America. When students feel safe enough to go to school as their authentic selves, they are free to learn and succeed both academically and personally.  Simply the presence of a Gay Straight Alliance in schools is ‘associated with lower levels of victimization for ALL students’*, so imagine how our LGBTQIA students will thrive knowing they are protected by federal law. I know if my child had been protected from harassment by law, they would have felt more comfortable coming out in high school and would have been more involved in various school activities,” said Kristen Draper, Northern Colorado, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). 

“At a time when the Trump administration has chosen to turn its back to LGBT students, it’s more important than ever for Members of Congress to step up. The ACLU applauds Representatives Polis, Ros-Lehtinen, Scott, and Takano, as well as Senator Baldwin, for today’s introduction of the Student Non-Discrimination Act. No student in our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools should ever be denied a quality education because of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation will help to ensure that our public schools are places where every student, including those who are LGBT, can learn and thrive,” said Ian Thompson, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

"Every child in this country has a right to feel safe in their school. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would provide crucial protections against discrimination for LGBTQ young people, one of the most vulnerable groups in our community. We thank Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) for their leadership on this issue and being champions of equality for all people,” David Stacy, Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

“The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) commends Congressman Polis for introducing the Student Non-Discrimination Act to ensure that students in public schools, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, can enjoy explicit protections without fear of being targeted or discriminated against because of who they are. Widespread discrimination in America's schools is a reality for too many LGBT children and their families. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, a national study conducted by NCTE of nearly 28,000 transgender adults, revealed that out of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender in school, a full 77% experienced some form of mistreatment because of being transgender—including 54% who were verbally harassed, 24% who were physically attacked, and 13% who were sexually assaulted in school because of being transgender, and 17% who faced such severe mistreatment that they left a K–12 school,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, NCTE. 

Read the fact sheet about SNDA.

About Polis:

Polis has consistently advocated for LGBTQ rights. Polis first introduced SNDA in 2010. He is a founding member and co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. He is also an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other existing laws to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in the areas of employment, education, credit, housing, federal funding, jury service, and public accommodations.

Last year, as a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, Polis helped re-launch the Transgender Equality Task Force.  He also led a bicameral letter asking the Dept. of Education to remain committed to civil rights protections and enforcements.  In addition, he serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, is the lead Democrat on the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee, and is a member of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee.

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