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This US Senator wants to ban all LGBT discrimination in schools

Sarah Charlton July 14, 2015
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The Senate will vote on a bill to end harassment based on students sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

For the past five years, at every congressional session, Senate Al Franken has introduced legislation to protect LGBT students from harassment and bullying at public schools. Yet every year, it has not received one vote on the Senate floor.

However, Franken thinks that on Tuesday, his long-suffering bill might finally win passage.

From 2010, Franken has introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a measure that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, just as schools are already required to prevent discrimination regarding sex, religion or race.

The school administrators would be “expected to step in and set a policy that kids can’t do this.” Franken told Mother Jones in an interview on Monday. “They can’t bully kids because they’re LGBT. If they do, they’ll be told not to and face disciplinary action just like a kid who bullies kids because they’re black, or because they’re Asian, or because they have a disability.”

It’s not just harassment from fellow students that the bill would ban, school officials would also not be able to treat LGBT students differently based on their identities. For example, schools would no longer be able to ban students attending prom with a same-sex date.

According to Franken’s office, the bill is scheduled to hold a vote on Tuesday as an amendment to the Senate’s bill to No Child Left Behind.

“In the last Congress we got 64 votes in the Senate for ENDA – that’s the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – and that is basically setting the same rights to adults that here we’re trying to extend to kids. This, to me, is a lower bar. I think that we can do this.” He said. “I think that it will be a close vote, the make-up of the Senate has changed since the last Senate, but I don’t quite understand why my colleagues would not extend these rights to children.”

Although there is optimism, it is unclear whether enough Republicans will support Franken’s measure on Tuesday. So far, only one Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor, this being Senate Mark Kirk of Illinois.

“I’m going to be certainly lobbying my colleagues and try to convince them that we’re Senators, but we’re also grown-ups, and we should be there for these kids.” Franken said. “Think about your own kid, going to school with anticipation or going to school with fear.”

During a speech on Monday afternoon on the Senate floor, Franken portrayed statistics showing why LGBT students need more protection from harassment. Around three out of four LGBT students reported verbal harassment in a 2013 National School Climate survey. Also from that same study, thirty-five percent said that they suffered a physical assault at school and almost a third of the students surveyed missed at least a day of school within the month of the survey, as a result of fear for their safety.

“You can’t learn when you’re afraid, when you dread going to school.” Franken told Mother Jones.

Even if Franken’s amendment does pass the Senate, it would still have to clear the House, when the congress will try to merge competing education reform bills.

Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, put forward the same measure as the House debated a reauthorisation of the bill last week, but Republican leaders in the chamber refused to put it up for a vote.

Despite this however, Franken is still hopeful since the White House has been “very supportive,” he said, of the measure and they would help to push it during reconciliation.

Related topics: Al Franken, bullying, Discrimination, gender identity, harassment, LGBT, new bill, public schools, sexual orientation, students, US

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