On Thursday, August 5, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would include student protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This move comes after a lot of pressure from grassroots campaigns against hate crimes, legislation introduced against bullying and many statistics showing that LGBT youth are more likely to face harassment and depression, attempt suicide, and drop out of school.
(Image Caption: Lakenya Martin of Texas advocated for safer schools in the media after her son was attacked and beaten with a metal pipe as the bus driver watched.)
“Instead of turning a blind eye to school-yard bullying we are addressing the root of the problem. Children are taught violence, it is not innate,” says Jowhara Sanders, who heads up a group called NVEEE (National Voices for Equality, Education & Enlightenment). “Far too many students have been denied their right to equal education, while countless others have paid the ultimate price.”
The ultimate price Sanders refers to is death for the victims of some hate crimes. In Florida, hate crimes like the one that killed 26 year-old Ryan Skipper in 2007 were preceded by years of bullying and intimidation in central Florida. Even after his death, his community maligned him with unfounded rumors of drug use and illicit sexual behavior as to imply that “he got what he deserved”.
Organizations like NVEEE and Gay American Heroes in South Florida aim to combat these grim realities with education and advocacy. In some cases, bullying and violence have lead schools to become what Sanders calls a “battlefield”. She says the new legislation, although very much needed and appreciated will be too late for some parents and her heart goes out to them.
A 2007 survey by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) showed that 86.4% of LGBT students had faced harassment at school, and that 60.8% felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. The Senate Bill introduced last week follows the House Bill and includes all kids, regardless of their gender or orientation – although LGBT students will likely benefit very much from the new legislation.
“The introduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) benefits society as a whole because we are finally demanding accountability of an entire nation of educators and lawmakers,” says Sanders. “Thank you to Senator Casey and to all of the co-Sponsors of this bill. NVEEE solutes you.”