Franken Takes on Bullying



Minnesota senator Al Franken, who earlier this year introduced a bill explicitly addressing antigay bullying in public schools, has condemned recent statements by a social conservative group claiming that such legislation is not only unnecessary but would serve to indoctrinate students into homosexuality.

Franken responded to comments by Minnesota Family Council president Tom Prichard, who in a blog post last week said that “homosexual activists” were manipulating media attention of multiple suicides this past year in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in the Minneapolis area to further an agenda. Prichard also asserted that LGBT youths are at greater risk of suicide because “they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle” — not because they face a well-documented higher incidence of harassment from their peers.

Of the comments, Franken told The Advocate, “After all the tragedy that Anoka-Hennepin school district students have endured this year, I find it unbelievable that anyone would suggest that bullying is not a problem.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to protect our students from bullying and harassment, and it’s time that we extend equal rights to LGBT students,” Franken said. “No student should be subjected to discrimination and harassment in school, and we must tackle this problem at every level — local, state, and federal.”

Franken said the teen suicides resulting from antigay bullying in Minnesota — as well as those reported around the country in recent weeks and months, spurring unprecedented media attention on the issue — has made passage of the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act a priority.

That bill, introduced by Franken in May, would expressly prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity or ignoring harassment based on those characteristics. Schools found to violate the law could lose funding from federal departments and agencies.

Franken is seeking to include the legislation in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law, expected to be voted on next year. Thus far he has attracted 25 cosponsors for the bill: 24 Democrats and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Additional sponsors are expected when Congress returns after the November midterm elections.

Companion legislation of the senate bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January by Rep. Jared Polis, one of three openly gay congressional representatives.

Minnesota LGBT advocates also emphasized the need to codify language in state law condemning harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, whether actual or perceived. “The current law clearly isn’t working,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, a state LGBT group. “When you have LGBT or questioning students bullied, it’s really important for the policies to name the harassment for what it is. Often schools are timid in addressing that sort of harassment for fear that they’re seen as promoting homosexuality.”

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