Education Bill ReWrite Would Protect Gay Students
WASHINGTON -- Buried in the proposed rewrite of the nation’s massive education law are protections for gay and lesbian students that its supporters liken to the landmark 1972 protections for the rights of female athletes in high school and college.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday released a 1,150-page revision of the law governing the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but more commonly called No Child Left Behind.
In it, they include student nondiscrimination language that, if passed, would threaten schools’ funding if gay and lesbian students are bullied or harassed.
The supporters praised the language as similar to Title IX, the federal law chiefly known for mandating gender equity in high school and collegiate sports.
The legislation’s text on gays and lesbians begins on Page 694 of the massive school bill.
"This is a significant moment for our nation’s education system and one that addresses the vital needs of all students in K-12 schools," said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment. This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments."
The bill bans discrimination against students who are gay - or who are perceived as gay - in any program that receives federal education dollars. Schools that do not provide sufficient protection to gays and lesbians could find their dollars cut.
"No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe," said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. "Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school."
Two years ago, Franken offered a similar provision to the same education bill and likened it to Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for girls and women.
At the time, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wanted the rewrite to have bipartisan support coming out of his committee. Franken withdrew the provision.
The full Senate did not vote on the 2011 bill.
This time, Harkin, D-Iowa, applauded the protections "because every child deserves a safe and healthy place to learn."