LGBT Groups: ‘Grave Concern’ Over Education Bill
BY Advocate.com Editors
November 02 2011 11:00 AM ET
A coalition of LGBT advocacy groups and allied organizations is calling on senate lawmakers to ensure federal antidiscrimination protections for LGBT students are included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011.
The groups, which include the Family Equality Council, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a Tuesday letter that ESEA “is the ideal vehicle to rectify this shortcoming in federal law and the absence of such a provision simply ensures that such discrimination and harassment will continue."
“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,” the groups wrote in the letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the committee’s ranking member. “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."
The ESEA, last reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act under President George W. Bush, passed out of committee last month.
Senators who have proposed LGBT-related student antidiscrimination bills, including one by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), have said they will offer the bills as amendments to ESEA when it comes up before the full senate. Franken said last month that his bill, the Student Nondiscrimination Act, had been seen as a “poison pill” by some members who feared it could have led to a loss of bipartisan committee support for the ESEA reauthorization bill, though the Minnesota senator said he believed his bill would attract enough support if it came up for a vote.
Text of the full letter below.
Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi:
As legal and advocacy organizations committed to ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) students, as well as those who are perceived to be LGBT, have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment, we are writing to express our grave concerns with the Elementary and Secondary Education (“ESEA”) Reauthorization Act of 2011, which we do not support in its current form.
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.
This failure comes despite overwhelming evidence establishing a compelling need for action at the federal level. LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools. A 2009 study of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students across the U.S. found that nine out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly one-third skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. It is critical that the federal government and schools act to address this very serious problem facing LGBT youth, and that they do so in a manner that does not rely on overly punitive school discipline policies which worsen the problem of the school- to-prison pipeline.
Federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability and national origin. Yet there are no express protections on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This reauthorization is the ideal vehicle to rectify this shortcoming in federal law and the absence of such a provision simply ensures that such discrimination and harassment will continue.
We share the concerns of numerous civil rights organizations, business groups, and education officials regarding the reauthorization’s weak federal accountability system, which will have a particularly harmful impact on students with disabilities, low-income students, students of color, and English-language learners and migrant students. LGBT students, of course, are also included among each of these categories, further heightening our concern. We recognize the importance of attaching federal funding to firm and ambitious demands for higher achievement, high school graduation rates, achievement-gap closing, and other barriers to learning for all student subgroups. To be effective, this must also be coupled with measurable achievement and progress targets, and the availability of tailored federal interventions and remedies when necessary for more than just a small percentage of the very worst performing schools. Unfortunately, this reauthorization, in its current form, will permit far too many low- achieving students across the country to slip through the cracks, without any federal accountability.
We hope to work with both of you, as well as other senators, to address our significant concerns as this process continues to move forward.
American Civil Liberties Union
Family Equality Council
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)