President Wants a National Safe Schools Act

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com April 20 2012 4:05 PM ET

Following a White House screening of the documentary Bully, President Obama endorsed both the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

The president made the announcement on Friday, the 17th annual Day of Silence, where LGBT students and allies sustain a vow of non-verbal communication to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

"The President and his Administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying," according to the White House's official statement. "He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator [Al] Franken and Congressman [Jared] Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator [Bob] Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment."

Obama's actions were heralded by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, with executive director Eliza Byard saying in a statement that, "Today's announcement is a vital show of support to students everywhere of all identities, backgrounds, and beliefs who face bullying and harassment in school."

The ACLU, which also championed the bills, expressed appreciation for the president's support.

"Having the White House stand behind the Student Non-Discrimination Act is key to getting this necessary legislation passed into law," said Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative, in a statement. "Our public schools should be a safe harbor for our youth, not a place of exclusion and ridicule. By passing the Student Non-Discrimination Act, Congress can have a profound and very real impact in improving the lives of LGBT students. It’s time to make passage of this bill a priority."

The president was asked to support the bills in a March letter from 70 organizations. As of last month, the SNDA has about a third of the Senate signed up as cosponsors, but it often takes 60 votes to get anything through there these days. It remains to be seen how such legislation will fair in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Congressman Polis (D-Colo.), himself gay, says SNDA establishes a federal ban on discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and provides victims with recourse. “I’m extremely pleased that President Obama has endorsed my Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will help ensure that LBGT students can attend school free of harassment, discrimination and violence. This endorsement is an enormous step forward for equality, but on a human level it is about the right of any student in America to attend school and learn without the fear of being bullied. I intend to work with President Obama and Senator Franken, who introduced the companion bill, to see that the Student Non-Discrimination Act becomes the law of the land.”