This year was a banner year for marriage equality, but there was also progress in the effort to protect LGBT students and others from bullying in schools.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network reports that the Safe Schools Improvement Act, federal legislation that would require schools to have antibullying policies in place, has gained support in Congress, putting it closer to passage. Advocates for the bill say they managed to attract the support of six more members of the House and two additional senators.
There are now 176 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and 43 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate. This total includes 10 Republican cosponsors in the House and Republcans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in the Senate.
“We are extremely encouraged by the increased support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act, particularly among our Republican friends who recognize that all students deserve to be safe in school regardless of who they are,” said GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard. “When children do not feel safe, they cannot learn. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a common-sense solution to address the bullying problem in this country. Congress has the power to make a difference, and we look forward to working with our partners on the Hill and in the National Safe Schools Partnership to build even more bipartisan support for this critical legislation.”
According to GLSEN, which leads the National Safe Schools Partnership, consisting more than 100 national organizations, the Safe Schools Improvement Act also has more Republican cosponsors than any other LGBT-inclusive bill.
The act, introduced in the Senate by Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and in the House by Democrat Linda Sanchez of California, addresses bullying and harassment for all students, including those who are bullied on the basis of their actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, if they are from a military family, or any other distinguishing characteristic.
No federal law or policy exists that requires schools to adopt policies to address bullying and harassment. Existing state laws vary greatly in their reach and effectiveness.
GLSEN and the National Safe Schools Partnership also note that the bill has the support of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Traditionally, House leaders rarely cosponsor legislation, and Pelosi’s support serves to highlight the importance and urgency of the bill.
“No student should feel unsafe in the classroom—not because of who they are, not because of anything,” said Pelosi. “Congress should pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and ensure that our schools are safe places for everyone to learn.”
LGBT students experience a high rate of bullying and harassment, according to GLSEN. In GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, eight out of 10 LGBT students (81.9 percent) said they've been harassed in the previous year because of their sexual orientation and 63.9 percent because of their gender expression,
Contact reporter Alex Davidson on Twitter at twitter.com/adwildcat