Make our schools safe for all

For some young people, going to school is tantamount to a daily dose of torture. In too many cases, harassment, taunting and abuse are allowed to go on unabated in our nation’s schools.

We have repeatedly seen the tragic consequences of this pervasive problem: young people are left emotionally damaged, physically hurt, or feel they have no other option than to take their own lives out of hopelessness and despair. Youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are often the targets of this bullying and harassment.

It’s long past time to end such abuse, and federal lawmakers recently moved closer to making this a reality when U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and 10 original co-sponsors introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) in the Senate. Last May, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) introduced SSIA in the House and it currently has 119 co-sponsors.

SSIA amends the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt policies that prohibit bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. SSIA also encourages bullying prevention training of faculty and staff and that they take effective action if bullying occurs. In addition, the bill requires the statewide reporting of bullying and harassment data to the Department of Education.

Across the country, LGBT youth are suffering just because of who they are. In a 2007 study, nearly 45 percent of LGBT students surveyed reported experiencing physical harassment and over 20 percent reported being physically assaulted at schools in the last year. Studies have also shown that LGBT youth attempt suicide at rates that are three to six times that of their heterosexual peers.

SSIA would help schools deal with bullying and harassment that target a student’s actual or perceived identity or associations with persons or groups on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, national origin, sex, disability or religion.

This would send a strong and clear message that schools have a duty to actively protect all students, regardless of who they are. Please contact your member of Congress and encourage them to co-sponsor this important legislation. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will continue to work with GLSEN and our partners in the National Safe Schools Partnership coalition to fight for an end to bullying and other dangerous behavior in our schools, and we commend Sen. Casey and Rep. Sanchez for their legislative leadership on this issue.

Bottom line: Safe schools for our young people should be the rule, not the exception.

Cross-posted on Daily Kos. Check out the dialogue happening over there.