GLSEN youth activists gather to support safe schools legislation

Sat. March 24, 2012 8:14 AM by Alex Sennello

Washington, D.C. - On Saturday, March 24th, roughly 40 queer students and allied adults from across the country who "demonstrate superior leadership skills, live in key legislative districts, and have shown an interest in legislative advocacy" convene in Washington, D.C. for GLSEN's 2012 Safe Schools Advocacy Summit.

According to Nathan Smith, the public policy associate for the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, "the overall goal is to empower participants to make change at the local, state, and national level to create safer schools and to draw attention to the need for safe schools legislation."

The Summit is focused on efforts to pass two pieces of legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act, with a mission to improve the lives and educational experience of queer young people in the nation's public schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (S. 506/H.R.1648) is designed to ensure schools develop and implement policies that prohibit bullying behavior, craft effective bullying prevention strategies, and collect and report data on the bullying and harassment of students.

Reintroduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA), the Safe Schools Improvement act has been tried in the past four congressional sessions and has continued to gain bipartisan support with each reintroduction, ending in the 111th Congress with 131 congressional co-sponsors and 17 and co-sponsors in the Senate.

As introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), the Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555/H.R. 998) is intended to extend the same federal protections from discrimination afforded to sex, race, or religion in public schools to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If passed, the Student Non-Discrimination Act would give gender and sexual minority youth nationwide the tool of meaningful legal recourse against those who oppress and discriminate, as opposed to the current system where most states and counties do not have civil rights laws that address discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and those that do, commonly fail to properly protect youth in public schools from discriminatory actions, rendering them all but useless to queer youth.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act is designed to work in unison with the Safe Schools Improvement Act to ensure that anti-bullying legislation has a strong backbone to deal specifically with the bullying of those who are, and are perceived to be, queer by ensuring that bullying due to sexual orientation or gender identity is seen as what it truly is, discriminatory behavior.

After a series of discussions and workshops on the need for, and the intricacies of, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and a few hours of lobbying coaching, the participants are scheduled to board Capitol Hill bound busses on the morning of Tuesday the 26th to gain Congressional support for the two pieces of legislation.

Article by Alex Sennello, a contributing youth journalist. and the Network welcomes contributions by community journalists. Contact the editor for more information.

Related: Alex Sennello will provide live coverage on Twitter @AlexSennello and @GoPride.