With so much recent news coverage on suicides of LGBT youth, those of us who work on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender safe schools issues have a lot on our plate. We're trying to figure out how best to respond to the needs of LGBT youth, as always. But we're also thinking about how to use the current media attention to these issues as a teachable moment to get the public to understand the importance of school anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation. Those topics and more were part of the discussion at last week's convening of the National Safe Schools Roundtable, a coalition of organizations that work to make schools safer for LGBT students, which I attended in Minneapolis on behalf of the ACLU LGBT Project.
The convening was a great opportunity for organizers and advocates to learn more about each others' work, share information and best practices about what we do, and strategize about how best to work together to make schools better for our youth. But we did more than just meet. We heard from members of the Anoka-Hennepin Gay Equity Team, a group of students, parents, and teachers working together to better protect students in a school district that has seen multiple student suicides in the past year, some of which involved students known to have been victims of anti-gay harassment at school. University of Illinois at Chicago researcher Dr. Stacey Horn did a presentation on her research on student attitudes towards LGBT people. Joseph Wardenski, an attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, who briefed us on DOJ's efforts to combat bullying in our public schools. We attended a fundraiser/anniversary bash for aMaze, a Minneapolis nonprofit that created the Families All Matter Book Project.
One of the most meaningful moments during the convening for me personally was attending a screening of Bullied, a documentary from the Southern Policy Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program about Jamie Nabozny, who successfully sued his Wisconsin school district with the help of our colleagues at Lambda Legal after administrators ignored years of his being harassed and even beaten at school because he is gay. Jamie is a hero to those of us who do LGBT schools work, because his case set important federal court precedent granting students the right to sue their schools for not protecting them from anti-LGBT harassment. He was there for a Q&A with all of us after the film and it energized and inspired all of us to hear from a student fought back so bravely. Bullied is available to schools at no charge and is short enough to watch during a class period, so I encourage educators to check it out – and think about having Jamie come speak at your school or even talk with your class via Skype.
Finally, on the last morning of the convening, we had breakfast with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the primary Senate sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390), a bill that would outlaw discrimination in public schools based on a student's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. "It seems like a no-brainer to me," the senator said to us, "That if you want to do something about bullying in schools, then you should do something to protect the kids who are actually GETTING bullied." Just a few days later, Sen. Franken's office released this video:
So far SNDA has 28 cosponsors in the Senate, but Sen. Franken said he has had difficulty getting any Republicans to sign on, which he feels is key in moving the bill forward. He encouraged anyone from a state with Republican senators to write and call their offices and encourage them to sign on as a SNDA cosponsor. (If you don't know who your senator is, click here to find out).
And please join with the ACLU to help pass SNDA to support of students across the country who face harassment and discrimination from their peers and their educators based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.