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Obama supports acts targeting school bullying and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity

On Friday, President Barack Obama endorsed support for the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would target discrimination and bullying against students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

From Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president:

Recently, I watched the movie BULLY with my mom.  We were both deeply moved by the film and the stories it tells of students, families, and communities impacted by bullying.

Earlier today, we screened BULLY at the White House.  We were joined by bullying prevention advocates from a range of communities – LGBT, AAPI, faith, disability, and others – as well as educational partners and key Obama Administration staff who work on these issues every day, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Before the film, a panel of nationally recognized experts on bullying prevention spoke from their perspectives about challenges and opportunities, and after the film, we heard from Lee Hirsch, the director and filmmaker, and several of the students and families who were directly impacted by bullying and intolerance and whose stories were featured in the film.

This film is a powerful call to action: We must do everything we can to work toward the day when no young person or family suffers the pain, agony, and loss caused by bulling in our schools and communities.

In the last few years, President Obama and his Administration have taken significant steps towards this goal.

In March of 2010, we held the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, attended by both the President and First Lady. The conference brought together students, teachers, advocates, the private sector, and policymakers, to discuss ways to make our schools safer. President Obama explained it this way: “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.”

The President recorded a video for the It Gets Better Project, and so did the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries, and members of the White House Staff.

The Department of Education has issued guidance to schools, colleges, and universities, making it clear that existing civil rights laws apply to bullying.  Schools have not just a moral responsibility, but a legal responsibility, to protect our young people from harassment.  They have also worked with states to help them in their own anti-bullying efforts, and recently released a report that documents key components of anti-bullying laws across all 50 states.  And the Department of Education has issued guidance to Governors and state school officials, in order to help them incorporate the best practices for protecting students.

We recently re-launched StopBullying.gov, a website that contains detailed descriptions of the work we’re doing on bullying, along with resources for young people, parents, and educators.

We’ve partnered with businesses, foundations, non-profits, and universities that are coming up with new, creative ways to make our schools safe.

And recently, the Departments of Education and Justice reached a landmark settlement in the Anoka-Hennepin School District after an extensive investigation into bullying and harassment against students who are or are perceived to be LGBT.

These Administrative actions have been critically important – and effective – and we will continue to work across the entire Federal government to address and prevent bullying.

We also hope that Congress will take action to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment by passing the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).  These pieces of legislation are critically important to addressing bullying in our schools and safeguarding our most vulnerable students.  The Student Non-Discrimination Act, sponsored by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, and Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, would prohibit discrimination in public schools against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.  And the Safe Schools Improvement Act, sponsored by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Representative Linda Sanchez of California, would require school districts to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.  I would also like to thank Illinois Representative Danny Davis for his advocacy on this issue.  All of our students have the same right to go to school in an environment free of discrimination and harassment, and that’s why the President supports these two important pieces of legislation and wants to work with Congress as they move forward in the process.

Every day, we are striving to do our part to make progress.  And I believe that day by day, step by step, we will change not just our laws and policies, but behavior, so that every young person is able to thrive in our schools and communities, without worrying about being bullied.

Here are a few news releases with reaction from national LGBT groups and allies:

HRC, Human Rights Campaign:

Student Non-Discrimination Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act Needed to Address Anti-LGBT Discrimination and Bullying in Schools

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today applauded President Obama for announcing his support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA).

“The President’s endorsement of the SNDA and SSIA recognizes the importance of providing LGBT students with the same civil rights protections as other students,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “No student should feel scared when walking into their school and these bills would address the discrimination and bullying that our youth have endured for far too long.”

SNDA is sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in the House of Representatives. SNDA would prohibit public elementary and secondary schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. SSIA is sponsored by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the Senate and by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) in the House.  The bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to 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.  This is the first time the President has expressed his support for either piece of legislation.

Discrimination and bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity contributes to high dropout rates, absenteeism, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people. Federal statutory and/or constitutional protections expressly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability, but do not expressly address sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, students and parents have limited legal recourse to redress for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite recent inaccurate criticisms of the bill by Heather Wilson, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in New Mexico, the SNDA does not inhibit constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and expression for individuals and student groups.   Language in SNDA recognizes that nothing in the Act alters the legal standards and rights available to individuals or religious and other student groups under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act.  SNDA prohibits discrimination, including severe, persistent or pervasive harassment; it does not prevent an individual or organization from expressing disagreement with an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

Lambda Legal:

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have long been at a significant disadvantage without specific protection under federal law."

(New York, April 20, 2012) - Today, on GLSENs' National Day of Silence, the White House announced its support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), and Lambda Legal released the following statement by Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director of Lambda Legal:  

"We applaud the Obama administration for endorsing this critical piece of legislation. We thank Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Tammy Baldwin and over 50 other current sponsors for their leadership on this bill and we urge Congress to pass it.

"At Lambda Legal, we've encountered extraordinary cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT young people in schools - and sometimes against the allies who try to support them. The Student Non-Discrimination Act takes a big step toward a safer and healthier environment in every public school.

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have long been at a significant disadvantage without specific protection under federal law. All students have a right to a safe learning environment, and this law will leave no doubt as to public schools' responsibility to provide it."

National Center for Transgender Equality:

Washington, D.C. -  In response to President Obama's endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling said:
 
"These two safe schools bills are just tremendously important to trans youth and President Obama's endorsement is another example of his broad commitment to trans people and trans issues. We are thankful to Senators Al Franken and Bob Casey and Representatives Jared Polis and Linda Sanchez for their leadership on these issues. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, trans and gender nonconforming young people face startling amounts of harassment, assault and sexual violence at school, with more extreme rates of harassment and violence among trans youth of color. Trans kids are hurting and we have a way to stop that. Congress must act quickly to protect our transgender young people."

ACLU:

WASHINGTON – At an event at the White House today, the Obama administration endorsed a crucial bill that would protect LGBT youth from harassment and bullying in schools. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would protect students from discrimination, including harassment “based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” in public elementary and secondary schools.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in the Senate and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House, would help to end entrenched biases toward LGBT students in our public education system by filling gaps in our federal civil rights laws.

“Having the White House stand behind the Student Non-Discrimination Act is key to getting this necessary legislation passed into law,” said Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative. “Our public schools should be a safe harbor for our youth, not a place of exclusion and ridicule. By passing the Student Non-Discrimination Act, Congress can have a profound and very real impact in improving the lives of LGBT students. It’s time to make passage of this bill a priority.”

GLSEN:

NEW YORK - April 20, 2012 - Today, on GLSEN's 17th annual Day of Silence, the White House released the following statement of support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act:

“The President and his Administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying. He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator Franken and Congressman Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

The following statements are from GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard and GLSEN National Board member Sirdeaner Walker:

"Today's announcement is a vital show of support to students everywhere of all identities, backgrounds and beliefs who face bullying and harassment in school," said Byard. "By speaking out on GLSEN's Day of Silence in support of these two critical bills, the President has given greater hope to students who often feel that they have nowhere to turn. It is deeply moving to know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who face the multiple threats of harassment, violence and discrimination have the President as an ally in their efforts to win all of the protections that they deserve."

“Today is a day that I have hoped for since I began my work as an anti-bullying advocate after losing my son Carl," said Walker. "I believe that President Obama’s explicit endorsement of the Safe Schools Improvement Act will make a tremendous difference in moving this issue forward. Having met with the President three times, I knew his support for SSIA and the Student Non-Discrimination Act was genuine. But stating that publicly on GLSEN's Day of Silence pushes it to a whole new level. While nothing can bring Carl back, I know that these bills can make a real difference to end the bullying and harassment that is faced by too many other sons and daughters today.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

WASHINGTON, April 20 — President Obama today announced his support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act, federal legislation aimed at combating anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) bullying and discrimination in our nation’s schools. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is working in coalition toward passage of both these critical bills.

Statement by Rea Carey, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“We thank President Obama for endorsing the Safe Schools Improvement Act and Student Non-Discrimination Act. The epidemic of bullying and discrimination in our nation’s schools is a tragedy and an outrage. No student should fear getting beaten up, harassed and tormented while simply trying to get an education. We have a responsibility to ensure all young people are protected from this pervasive bullying, discrimination and abuse. Parents, educators, policymakers — all of us — need to stand against this unacceptable behavior. The president did that today. We urge him to now help get these life-saving bills through Congress.”

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Good Morning,

My name is Billy Smith. I am from Jackson, Mississippi. I am currently overseas at the moment with the Military (United States Marine Corps). My message pertains to the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). Representative Jared Polis [D-CO2] spponsered this bill in the house and Senator Franken sponsored this bill in the Senate. April 20, 2012 the Obama Administration endorsed support for the SNDA.

The purpose according to the written text of the SNDA is "to ensure that all students have access to public education in a safe environment free from discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, on the the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity..."

I created this YouTube video in hopes that every member of Congress and the American People will be able to watch it and understand the reason for support of SNDA and will also support SNDA. I hope that you will take the time to watch the video. The link is provided below:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AJ-hJgXUGE&hd=1

***PLEASE WATCH AND SHARE!***

It is titled "Members of CONGRESS & America act: Support the Student Non-discrimination Act " When I was in high school, middle school and late elementary school, I experienced the bullying in bad forms simply because I am gay. I understand what some of the students are going through in public school who my be subjected to bullying for various reasons. That is partially the reason I so strongly support SNDA.

Please watch.
Thank you,
Billy A. Smith

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