Schools are supposed to be safe zones where students can learn and grow. But for many gay and transgender youth,school is a place to be feared because of bullies and an overall hostile environment where they are susceptible to harassment and physical abuse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In order to prevent bullying against gay and transgender youth (and all youth for that matter), gay and transgender organizations, as well as civil rights organizations and education advocacy groups, need to support antibullying measures. By lending their support to antibullying measures, these organizations are helping to bring awareness to the issue of bullying and the effects it has on gay and transgender youth. More importantly, these organizations are encouraging and helping parents, students, and concerned citizens reach out to their elected representatives to let them know the critical importance of antibullying measures.
Nine out of 10 gay and transgender middle school and high school students have experienced harassment at school in the past year, according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. The survey found that nearly a third of gay and transgender students have skipped at least one day of school due to concerns about their safety in the previous month. In addition, an alarming 61 percent have felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 39 percent have felt unsafe because of their gender identity.
Currently, there are two antibullying bills that have been introduced in Congress—the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Both bills promote a positive school climate for all students, including gay and transgender students.
Specifically, the Student Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation against any student—kindergarten through 12th grade—in a public school receiving federal funding. The measure would also allow an individual to take legal action and be awarded compensatory damages and reimbursement of court costs if judgment is found in their favor. Likewise, the Safe Schools Improvement Act would require kindergarten-through-12th-grade public schools receiving federal funding to implement policies prohibiting harassment and bullying based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would also require states to report harassment and bullying data to the U.S. Department of Education.
A significant number of gay and transgender organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, support both bills. Just as importantly, a number of civil rights organizations and education advocacy groups are also supportive of these measures. The support of these groups is important for two reasons: First, bullying impacts all students; and second, the bullying of gay and transgender youth is a serious problem that requires the support of a diverse coalition to protect gay and transgender students from bullying and harassment.
Currently, youth are protected from discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and on the basis of race, color, or national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title IX has been used successfully to provide protections against sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes by some gay and transgender youth. Unfortunately, since sexual orientation and gender identity are not included as enumerated groups, the only way to ensure that gay and transgender youth are universally protected from harassment and bullying is through explicit federal protection.
In 2011 CAP released a brief that examined what state and local school boards, state legislatures, and the federal government are doing to end discrimination and harassment against gay and transgender youth. The brief concluded that the existing wide range of approaches to prevent bullying across the country is simply not sufficient. Bullying that targets gay and transgender youth is a widespread problem that needs a national solution in the form of strong laws that are evenly applied to the entire country.
Thus the support of antibullying measures by civil rights organizations and educational advocacy groups is much needed if we are to solve this national problem of bullying. Many of these groups have issued independent statements endorsing the Student Non-Discrimination Act and/or the Safe Schools Improvement Act. (see tables below) The civil rights organizations and education advocacy groups that so far have supported antibullying measures independently include the American Association of School Administrators, American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Teachers, American Humanist Association, American Psychological Association, Catholics for Safe Schools, Interfaith Alliance, National Education Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Women’s Law Center, National Council of Jewish Women, People for the American Way, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
In addition to acting independently, these civil rights organizations and education advocacy groups have formed coalitions with other organizations to further advocate for antibullying measures. Earlier this year, for example, a coalition of 70 national and state organizations sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to support the passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act. As a result of these efforts, the Obama administration endorsed both antibullying bills in April.
The support of these groups is a clear indicator that they value an educational environment that is inclusive of gay and transgender youth. Therefore, the passage of the bills is critical to ensuring that gay and transgender youth are protected from harassment and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
More importantly, the bullying of gay and transgender youth is an issue that everyone should be concerned about—not just gay and transgender organizations. With the support of civil rights organizations and education advocacy groups, as well as students, parents, teachers, administrators, and everyday citizens, these bills will eventually become law, and schools will no longer be a place of fear and harassment for gay and transgender students. It is our fervent hope that some day very soon, schools in America will be inclusive educational environments that welcome all our youth.
Student Non-Discrimination Act supporting organizations
Safe Schools Improvement Act supporting organizations
Jerome Hunt is a Research Associate for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress.
 In this column, the term “gay” is used as an umbrella term for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
 The National School Climate Survey is conducted every two years. This fall, the results from the 2011 National School Climate Survey will be released. Therefore, at this time, this is the most recent data about gay and transgender youth and school climate.