February 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Polis introduces federal safe schools bill

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

The sponsor of a bill that would bar discrimination against LGBT students in schools across the country envisions passage of the legislation as part of an upcoming education budget bill.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a gay lawmaker, told DC Agenda last week he’s planning to push for inclusion of his legislation as a component of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act authorization bill this year or early next year.

“I think that we will look to get it included in the ESEA reauthorization, which is the main education bill,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to include some protections for gay and lesbian students in the bill.”

A member of the House Education & Labor Committee, Polis said the panel could take up discussion on his legislation this year when hearings begin on the ESEA reauthorization.

Polis introduced last week standalone legislation known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or H.R. 4530. The bill would bar discrimination against LGBT students in elementary and secondary schools. Additionally, the legislation would bar discrimination against students for associating with an LGBT person.

The new measure is based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in education programs or activities receiving federal funds.

Polis said the legislation would give schools across the country tools to fight against discrimination that includes “everything from exclusion from prom, to banning clubs, to lack of actions addressing bullying situations.”

“Gays and lesbians across the country face discrimination and frequently institutionalized discrimination in many school districts, and giving them a federal remedy, just as girls do and minorities, will help address this,” he said.

Even though the bill was recently introduced, it has support among lawmakers. The legislation had 60 original co-sponsors, including gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

Civil rights and education organizations also are supporting the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Also supporting the legislation is the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Shawn Gaylord, director of public policy, said his organization has been working closely with Polis’ office in developing the legislation and trying to push it through Congress.

“Now that it’s been introduced, we plan to work alongside the office to help attract additional co-sponsors,” he said. “We have a lobbying day coming up later in the spring. It’s possible that we’ll be lobbying on this bill along with other legislation that we’re interested in.”

Gaylord said the legislation is necessary because discrimination against LGBT students in schools “is pervasive.”

The National Climate School Survey that GLSEN releases every two years, Gaylord said, shows that nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students say they’ve experienced harassment at school because of their sexual orientation.

“And we know that almost a third of students missed a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe, which is more than five times higher than a national sample of all students feelings of not feeling safe at school,” he said.

Gaylord said he’s “optimistic” about the passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act because the bill already enjoys support among lawmakers.

“We know from our discussion on the Hill that this is an issue that legislators care about, and so we’re going to be optimistic that we can continue to build support for it, and I think it can make it all the way through,” he said.

The White House also expressed support for the legislation in response to a query from DC Agenda.

“The president believes that every child should learn in a safe and secure school environment,” said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson.

Drew Hammill, spokesperson for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the speaker’s office is “reviewing the legislation.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Oh Lord, here we go again. Speaker Pelosi says she is reviewing this legislation instead of supporting it, which should be a no-brainer. Congressman Jarod Polis (one of the few Democrats actually working to pass the Pro-GLBT Legislation they promissed us) has introduced a very good bill that will help address problems with bullying of gay & lesbian youth in schools. It will also ban the practice of banning student gay & straight alliance clubs from schools. Here in Virginia, there have been repeated attempts to ban these clubs from Virgnia’s public schools, and this federal legislation would prevent backward states like Virginia from discriminating against gay & lesbian kids.

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