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Senate panel approves LGBT-inclusive education bill

By 12-10 vote, committee reports out bill with anti-bullying protections

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HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news
HELP, Health, Education, Labor and Pension, Tom Harkin, United States Senate, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate HELP Committee under Sen. Tom Harkin approved an LGBT-inclusive education reform bill (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

A Senate committee approved on Wednesday by party-line vote an education reform bill that includes language aimed to protect LGBT students against bullying and harassment.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reported out legislation to reauthorize the Elementary & Secondary Education Act by a vote of 12-10 after a two-day period of considering amendments.

The 1,150-page education bill, known as the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, incorporates two standalone bills aimed to protect LGBT students: the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, or SSIA.

Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said she’s “thrilled” the education reform bill is moving forward and even more encouraged that the legislation includes SNDA and SSIA.

“These provisions serve as a model for federal legislation that would create safe, supportive and healthy school environments for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Byard said.

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments, the SNDA-like provision in the bill establishes LGBT students as a protected class and prohibits schools from discriminating against any student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The discrimination includes allowing bullying against them.

The bill also contains provisions similar to SSIA that advocates for a positive school climate and requires reporting on incidents of bullying, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s up to Democratic leadership to determine when the bill will come up for a floor vote. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the timing for a vote.

Following the hearing, Harkin told the Washington Blade he expects that a floor vote on the legislation will happen “probably after Labor Day.” He declined to comment on the inclusion of SSIA and SNDA as part of the larger legislation.

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a member of the committee, told the Blade she’s pleased the panel reported out legislation that includes the LGBT provisions without any qualms from senators on the committee.

“I think it’s terrific that those measures are in the base bill and that during the course of the markup, certainly there were no efforts to remove that language, or question that language,” Baldwin said. “I think that’s a great step forward.”

On Tuesday, the committee rejected a substitute bill for education reform proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the panel. That measure lacked both SNDA and SSIA.

Among the “no” votes to the LGBT-inclusive bill was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who voted against the bill by proxy. His opposition to the larger bill is noteworthy because he’s an original co-sponsor of SSIA. Kirk’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on his “no” vote.

The party-line vote in committee raises questions about whether the measure will find bipartisan support to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. It also raises concerns about whether a similar measure could pass in the Republican-controlled House.

Nonetheless, Baldwin said she sees a path forward for the legislation on the Senate floor and the possibility of Republican support.

“I listened carefully to Sen. Alexander’s remarks at the end of this,” Baldwin said. “And he sees a path forward to reauthorizing the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, and getting it to the president’s desk. That’s less likely to happen if there’s a filibuster. So if he continues in the vein that he has, understanding that there’s differences, but that we can resolve those in a conference committee after the Senate has acted, that would be great. But, you know, it’s far from assured.”

The same committee has also jurisdiction over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is expected to face a panel vote this summer.

But Baldwin says she doesn’t anticipate the proceedings on the LGBT-inclusive education bill to predict what will happen with ENDA.

“Not necessarily — very different bills,” Baldwin said.

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Politics

Pete Buttigieg calls out Tucker Carlson over attack

Fox News host mocked transportation secretary over paternity leave

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Washington Blade file photo)

Appearing remotely on MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s politics program Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called out Fox News host Tucker Carlson for the attack on his parental leave.

“This attack is coming from a guy who has yet to explain his apparent approval for the assassination of Harvey Milk, ” Buttigieg said.

During his Thursday evening program Carlson said, “Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child—paternity leave, they call it—trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went. But now he’s back in office as the transportation secretary and he’s deeply amused, he says, to see that dozens of container ships can’t get into this country.”

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National

Biden recognizes National Coming Out Day as time to honor LGBTQ people

White House statement denounces ‘bullying and harassment’

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President Biden recognized Oct. 11 as National Coming Out Day in a statement on Monday calling the occasion a time to celebrate the “courage of LGBTQ+ people who live their lives with pride, create community with open arms and hearts, and showcase the strength of being your authentic self.”

Biden ticked off in the statement the achievements on LGBTQ policy, including signing an executive order on his first day in his office ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year against anti-LGBTQ discrimination to the furthest extent possible.

“Despite the extraordinary progress our nation has made, our work to ensure the full promise of equality is not yet done. Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures,” Biden said. “Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character. We must continue to stand together against these acts of hate, and stand up to protect the rights, opportunities, physical safety, and mental health of LGBTQ+ people everywhere.”

Read Biden’s full statement below:

Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on National Coming Out Day

Today, we celebrate National Coming Out Day and the courage of LGBTQ+ people who live their lives with pride, create community with open arms and hearts, and showcase the strength of being your authentic self. Today and every day, I want every member of the LGBTQ+ community to know that you are loved and accepted just the way you are – regardless of whether or not you’ve come out.

My Administration is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ people can live openly, proudly, and freely in every corner of our nation. I am proud to lead an Administration with LGBTQ+ officials serving openly at the highest levels of government — and prouder that together we have made historic progress advancing protections and equal opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community. From acting on Day One to prevent and combat discrimination, to enabling all qualified Americans – including transgender Americans – to serve their country in uniform, to defending the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, my Administration has been clear that we will continue to champion the dignity, equality, and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Despite the extraordinary progress our nation has made, our work to ensure the full promise of equality is not yet done. Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures. Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character. We must continue to stand together against these acts of hate, and stand up to protect the rights, opportunities, physical safety, and mental health of LGBTQ+ people everywhere. From defeating discriminatory bills to passing the Equality Act, we have more work to do to ensure that every American can live free of fear, harassment, and discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.

To LGBTQ+ people across the country, and especially those who are contemplating coming out: know that you are loved for who you are, you are admired for your courage, and you will have a community — and a nation — to welcome you. My Administration will always have your back, and we will continue fighting for the full measure of equality, dignity, and respect you deserve.

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News

Senators to Rachel Levine: Issue guidance on mental health for trans youth

New instructions sought as more than half of trans youth contemplate suicide

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Sen. Chris Murphy (left) is leading the call on Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to offer guidance on trans health care.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is leading a group of senators who are urging Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender person to win Senate confirmation as a presidential appointee, to issue new guidance on mental health care needs for trans youth.

In a letter dated Sept. 30 and obtained Tuesday by the Washington Blade, the senators make the case current standards are insufficient for trans and gender expansive, or TGE, adolescents, including exploring, non-binary, agender, genderfluid and queer youth.

“Our goal is to help mental health providers offer the best care they can to the nation’s TGE youth without a delay in treatment,” the letter says. “The focus of this request is for the pressing needs of hospital or residential care even as we recognize the need for guidance across all settings of mental health care.”

Specifically, the senators call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

The senators address the letter to Levine, who in addition to being trans has a background in care for adolescent youth, and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use.

Cited in the letter are findings from the Trevor Project, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth, which determined more than half of trans and non-binary youth seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020.

“While behavioral health and pediatric organizations have published resources regarding TGE health care, we have heard from hospital providers they are seeking guidance on best practices for serving gender diverse youth in community residential and inpatient mental health settings,” the letter says.

The seven senators who signed the letter along with Murphy are Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

An HHS spokesperson for Levine’s office, in response to the letter, told the Blade: “We have received the letter and will be reviewing it.”

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