Murray: LGBT Students Deserve Protections from Bullying and Harassment

Murray: LGBT Students Deserve Protections from Bullying and Harassment

- in Politics
1986
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Senate Republicans defeat amendment to protect LGBT students

MurraySenateTuesday, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks on the Senate floor supporting an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act that would protect LGBT students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In her remarks, Murray explained that bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT students is prevalent in schools across the nation, yet there is limited legal recourse for these students. Murray noted that the Student Non-Discrimination Act amendment, introduced by Senator Al Franken (D-MN), would afford LGBT students similar protections that currently exist for students, based on race, gender, religion, disability, and country of national origin.

Senate Republicans defeated the amendment, which failed to clear a 60 vote threshold by a vote of 52-45.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks prior to the vote:

“When students don’t feel safe at school, when they are relentlessly bullied because they are different, when they endure harassment simply because of who they are – we have failed to provide them with the educational opportunities they deserve. We have failed them. As we debate our nation’s K through 12 education bill, we need to do everything we can to prevent bullying, harassment, and discrimination. And we need to provide students with a safe learning environment. “

“…the amendment we’ll discuss today will help tackle this problem. The Student Non-Discrimination Amendment would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools, based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The amendment would also prohibit any retaliation for lodging a complaint of discrimination. This would give LGBT students who are suffering from bullying and harassment legal recourse. And it would allow federal authorities to address discrimination.”

“The Student Non-Discrimination Amendment would afford LGBT students similar protections that currently exist for students who are bullied, based on race, gender, religion, disability, and country of national origin So unless you think LGBT students don’t deserve protection from discrimination the way other students do—this should be an easy one to support. This amendment is absolutely critical for expanding protections for LGBT students.”

“After years of fighting for equal rights, LGBT couples finally have the guarantee of marriage equality nationwide and the protections that all married couples enjoy. I am so proud of how far our country has come. Since the Court’s ruling, this will be the first vote this body takes on legislation aimed at ending discrimination against LGBT individuals. In this case – discrimination against LGBT children in schools. Surely we can agree that a minority group of students who have long endured bullying, harassment, and discrimination deserve the same protections that we afford other groups of students.”

“There is no excuse for a school, or for a United States Senator, to stand by as our kids endure harassment and discrimination that puts their academic success and emotional well-being in jeopardy. The country will be watching.  And I urge my colleagues to support this amendment to give students across the country the assurance that we’re on their side.”

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks prior to the vote:

“M. President, I want to start with a story of Chandler – who, as a ninth grader in Arkansas, experienced daily bullying and harassment.

“At school, his classmates harassed Chandler based on his perceived sexual orientation.  His mom described him as a good kid. She said all he wanted was to fit in.  But Chandler couldn’t walk down the hall between classes without kids harassing him.

“He had written his school counselor, saying he couldn’t handle, ‘being an outcast for four more years.’

“While teachers knew about the bullying, the school district never put a plan in place to address the concerns.  One day in 2010, Chandler took his own life, after enduring endless bullying and tormenting at school.  Chandler’s story is more than a tragedy.

“It feels like an all too common trend for students across the country.

“As a mother, a grandmother, a former educator – and really, as a citizen – I believe Congress must act to protect kids like Chandler.

“When students don’t feel safe at school, when they are relentlessly bullied because they are different, when they endure harassment simply because of who they are – we have failed to provide them with the educational opportunities they deserve. We have failed them.

“As we debate our nation’s K through 12 education bill, we need to do everything we can to prevent bullying, harassment, and discrimination. And we need to provide students with a safe learning environment.

“Today, we will consider an amendment to address the unique challenges that LGBT students face.

“I want to thank Senator Casey for his work on the Safe Schools Improvement Act – a bill that we won’t be voting on, but will continue working on. And, I also want to thank Senator Franken for his tireless leadership on the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

“On the HELP Committee, I have been a proud cosponsor of this legislation for years. Today, I hope all of our Senate colleagues will join us in protecting students from discrimination, based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“M. President, discrimination, bullying, and harassment at school leads students to feel unsafe. It leads to students skipping classes to avoid the harassment, and some students drop out of school because they don’t feel safe there.

‘If students don’t feel safe, then very little else we do to improve education will matter. This type of bullying and harassment can be severe, particularly for LGBT students.

“The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network recently did a survey on the experiences of LGBT youth in school. In that survey, six out of ten lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported feeling unsafe at school. And eight out of ten transgender students said the same.  And, M. President, 85 percent of LGBT students report that they have been harassed because of their sexual or gender identity.

“Even though bullying and harassment is prevalent for these students, they and their families have limited legal recourse for this kind of discrimination. Our students deserve better.

“M. President, the amendment we’ll discuss today will help tackle this problem. The Student Non-Discrimination Amendment would prohibit discrimination and harassment in public schools, based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The amendment would also prohibit any retaliation for lodging a complaint of discrimination. This would give LGBT students who are suffering from bullying and harassment legal recourse. And it would allow federal authorities to address discrimination.

“The Student Non-Discrimination Amendment would afford LGBT students similar protections that currently exist for students who are bullied, based on race, gender, religion, disability, and country of national origin.

“So unless you think LGBT students don’t deserve protection from discrimination the way other students do—this should be an easy one to support. This amendment is absolutely critical for expanding protections for LGBT students. And again, I want to thank the junior senator from Minnesota for his work on it.

“Some of my Republican colleagues have argued that taking steps to prevent bullying would only create lawsuits.  But I believe these students deserve justice. And giving students and families legal recourse would help provide that.

“Under this amendment, the process for legal recourse would be similar to Title Nine, which has been on the books since 1972.  In the majority of Title Nine cases, a school is more than willing to fix the problem so it no longer engages in discriminatory practices.

“After all, school leaders want to do the right thing and end bullying or harassment in their classrooms. They want to make sure their school is a safe for a particular group of students. And they want to make sure that students are discriminated against simply because of who they are. And with the amendment, this same process would be afforded to LGBT students.

“I’ve also heard some critics of this amendment say there is no need to focus on LGBT students. They don’t want to define who would be covered in an anti-discrimination amendment. But that logic just doesn’t follow what we already know works.

“There is a reason the civil rights laws of our country clearly define who is protected from discrimination. For example, our civil rights laws make clear that it’s unlawful to discriminate based on race and gender. A generic anti-discrimination policy won’t cut it.

“And, a vague policy would lead to years of litigation about:  who is and who is not protected, and what legal standards should apply.

“Making meaningful progress to prevent bullying, harassment, and discrimination requires us to clearly define who will be protected. We know LGBT students are being bullied, harassed, and discriminated against, and ignoring that fact with vague language doesn’t help these students—it does them a real disservice, and it’s wrong.

“So I urge my colleagues to support this amendment that clearly directs schools to protect LGBT kids from bullying, harassment, and discrimination. The pain that physical and emotional abuse can cause is tragic.

“In Ohio, a young man named Zach is an openly gay student. Since Zach was in the third grade, he has been called names at school, and that abuse only escalated from there.

“When he was 16, Zach was physically attacked and repeatedly punched by another student during his third-period class.   In a video from the ACLU, Zach’s mom said it’s not that Zach attended a bad school. She said, ‘It’s just not a good school for gay or lesbian children.’

“But, M. President, it shouldn’t matter what school a child attends. All students deserve a safe learning environment. Bullying and harassment take that away from too many of our nation’s students.

“M. President, I want to take a moment to note the historical significance of this debate and the vote we will take on this amendment.  Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court settled a question that for decades has been an issue of debate in our country.

“After years of fighting for equal rights, LGBT couples finally have the guarantee of marriage equality nationwide and the protections that all married couples enjoy. I am so proud of how far our country has come. Since the Court’s ruling, this will be the first vote this body takes on legislation aimed at ending discrimination against LGBT individuals.

“In this case – discrimination against LGBT children in schools. Surely we can agree that a minority group of students who have long endured bullying, harassment, and discrimination deserve the same protections that we afford other groups of students.

“There is no excuse for a school, or for a United States Senator, to stand by as our kids endure harassment and discrimination that puts their academic success and emotional well-being in jeopardy. The country will be watching.  And I urge my colleagues to support this amendment to give students across the country the assurance that we’re on their side.

“Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.”

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