Only In America : Senate Fails to Pass Critical Protections for LGBT Youth

Majority of Republican Senators shamefully vote down the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

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Today, in the first major vote on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, the Senate failed to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) – a bill that would prohibit public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBT civil rights organisation, decried the Republican-led defeat of the critical legislation for LGBT youth.

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Senator Al Franken (D-MN) offered SNDA as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act, which would update federal education law. The amendment failed on a vote of 52 to 45.

“Although a solid majority of Senators voted for this vital legislation, we are deeply disappointed that Republican leaders insisted on a super majority 60 vote threshold for passage,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “Every child deserves to learn in an environment free from discrimination and harassment, including those who are LGBT. Seven fair-minded Republican Senators joined every Democratic Senator in favour of protecting our nation’s kids from discrimination based on who they are. It’s time for Senators who voted against equality to put politics aside for the sake of our nation’s youth and instead reflect the strong support among the American people for these vital protections.”

Federal statutory protections address discrimination on the basis of race, colour, national origin, sex, and disability.  Unfortunately, federal civil rights laws do not expressly protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Decades of civil rights history shows that civil rights laws are effective in decreasing discrimination because they provide strong federal remedies targeted to specific vulnerable groups.

Modelled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, SNDA would explicitly prohibit public schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, SNDA prohibits discrimination against any student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated.

During the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee consideration of the Every Child Achieves Act, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) also offered the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) as an amendment.  SSIA would require school districts receiving federal funds to have enumerated anti-bullying and harassment policies that protect students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.  Unfortunately, Republicans on the Committee undercut his efforts, and the amendment was ultimately withdrawn.

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