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Keeping Schools Safe

Keeping Schools Safe

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Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, or Friday's National Day of Silence may conjure thoughts of those who have been harassed, bullied, and driven out of schools -- or worse. But in the movement to keep schools safe for all young people, including LGBTQ students, there are a few people who stand out among the many across the country who have taken on the cause. And rightfully so -- nearly nine in 10 LGBTQ students reported harassment at school, and more than half say they don't feel safe in school because of their sexual orientation, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. The following list includes some of the students, teachers, administrators, advocates, and political figures who are working to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn and grow.

Linda Sanchez -- U.S. representative from California; Democrat
Sanchez has introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Jill Biden -- Educator and wife of Vice President Joe Biden
Last June, Biden gave the opening remarks at the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's Respect Awards. There she voiced her commitment to fostering safe schools. "As an English teacher, I've read my students' personal journals and heard their intimate conversations about their pain and their anxiety," she said. "How can we expect kids to learn when they are taunted by their classmates? How can we ask them to do their best work?"

Arne Duncan -- U.S. secretary of Education
As the nation's top education official, Duncan has met with LGBT and safe schools advocates, including students who gave Duncan firsthand accounts of bullying and discrimination they've faced in our nation's schools.

Jared Polis -- U.S. representative from Colorado; Democrat
Polis sponsored the House version of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- U.S. representative from Florida; Republican
A consistent Republican ally on gay rights, Ros-Lehtinen has been a cosponsor on the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Judy Chiasson -- Program coodinator, Office of Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity, Los Angeles Unified School District
Chiasson's role for LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the country, includes advocating for educational access for all students regardless of sex, ethnicity, disability, language, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Chiasson supports district-wide nondiscrimination practices for LGBT students, trains staff and students, and helps establish gay-straight alliances.

Sirdeaner and Dominique Walker -- Family advocates
Massachusetts resident Sirdeaner Walker, the mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, lost her son to suicide last year. Walker's son was teased and bullied for allegedly "acting like a girl," but refused to tell his school's administrators about the bullying. Walker claimed school officials knew of the bullying for six months and turned a blind eye to the situation. Since her son's death, Walker has testified before a House subcomittee in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and has worked toward advancing the bill through petition drives and by telling her story on various news outlets and talk shows. Carl's sister, 16-year-old Dominique, has become copresident of her school's gay-straight alliance and is an ambassador for GLSEN.

Austin Laufersweiler -- Senior at Lassiter High School, Marietta, Ga.
The 2009 GLSEN Student Advocate of the Year, Laufersweiler lobbied at his high school for stricter antibullying policies, including changing the limited weapons rules to a zero-tolerance policy. He and school counselor Maru Gonzalez have also been working to get sexual orientation and gender identity added to antibullying policy for all Cobb County schools.

Marissa Allis and Alyssa Fernandez -- Student leaders, New York State
Allis and Fernandez are GLSEN student leaders in the Hudson Valley area, training other students building a coalition of students and adults working to create safe schools. The duo have been working with GSAs in the area to participate in the Great American Bake Sale and have worked to encourage more people in their county to participate in No Name-Calling Week.

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