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Teach Respect, Demand Non-Discrimination

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:24am

On Wednesday, a new international effort to combat racism and intolerance in schools was launched at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the full backing of the U.S. government. The effort, “Teaching Respect for All,” is designed to develop curriculum for use across the globe to promote tolerance and respect for all people. Importantly, the effort will allow countries to adept the curriculum for different contexts and needs.

According to the State Department, part of the focus initially will involve a review of existing curricula, legislation, and policies that include a component on education for respect and tolerance, as well as identifying best practices in the field.

Last September, the ACLU wrote to UNESCO on the problem of homophobic discrimination and harassment in U.S. public schools. In our comments, we offered a model federal legislative solution that would address this problem — the Student Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation would have a profound impact in improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the U.S. by ensuring that discrimination and harassment of students on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in our country’s public elementary and secondary schools.

This is particularly important because of the fact that no federal law expressly protects students on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal laws currently protect students on the basis of their race, color, sex, religion, disability and national origin.

Hopefully, as the “Teaching Respect for All” effort gets underway and best practices are developed, the Student Non-Discrimination Act will come to be seen as one of the most important steps the U.S. could take in this area, as well as serve as a best practice for other countries to follow. Teaching respect and demanding non-discrimination in schools are complementary goals that are mutually reinforcing. Please stand with the ACLU in support of LGBT students by urging your members of Congress to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act today.

In addition, join the discussion on Twitter regarding “Teaching Respect for All” and how best to address issues of intolerance and discrimination in schools by using the hashtag #dignity4all, weighing in with @StateDept, @USUNESCO, @UNESCOUSA, @Democracyis, and @Americagov.

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