As the country recognizes and supports LGBT pride and awareness this month, advocates across the country are working to address the problem of LGBT-related bullying in schools.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) notes that two types of laws exist that are meant to protect LGBT children and youth in schools: fully enumerated anti-bullying laws and non-discrimination laws.
Enumerated laws are specific to protecting students from bullying related to sexual orientation or gender. There are 15 states with this type of law including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Non-discrimination laws also exist to provide protection for LGBT students in schools. Unlike fully enumerated legislation, some of these laws do not protect against discrimination based on gender identity, which is the case in Wisconsin. However, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia do provide some protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
This type of legislation is incredibly important in order to offer both legal and physical protection to students. GLSEN notes that 6 out of 10 students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and transgender students have an even higher rate at 8 out of 10. Bullying introduces terrible risks for children and perhaps the greatest for LGBT youth. Many children report feeling unsafe in school, but the reality is that many of them actually are not safe. As many as 1 out of 5 have been physically harmed according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey. When children and youth feel threatened at school this often leads to further problems such as depression, thoughts of suicide, poor grades, mental and physical health problems that can extend into adulthood.
This year more and more states are recognizing the need for better and fully enumerated laws and are responding to the need by increasing anti-bullying legislation in order to protect LGBT students.
Two recent examples of these efforts:
The Pennsylvania State Legislature is pushing legislation that will target bullying in schools specifically based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation, known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, supports a larger education bill to combat bullying and harassment. Read more about it here.
At the federal level, Senator Al Franken has recently reintroduced the Student Non-discrimination Act that offers protection to students against harassment and bullying based on gender or sexual identity. The bill offers nationwide protection, modeled after Title IX legislation, and remedies discrimination in public schools based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Do you know the laws in your state? What’s being done to protect LGBT students from bullying?