Addressing Bullying and Harassment in Schools is an LGBT Issue

 Last Thursday, January 29, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), a bill that would address bullying and harassment in K-12 schools, in the U.S. Senate. This bill, originally co-sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), had almost a majority of sponsors in both chambers in the 113th Congress—208 in the House and 47 in the Senate—as well as bipartisan support. The passage of SSIA is important for all students who face harassment and bullying in schools but it is especially important for LGBT students who are often specifically targeted for bullying and harassment because of their gender identities and/or sexual orientations.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act will strengthen the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which is currently up for reauthorization), an extensive education bill signed into law in 1965, to ensure that local educational agencies in states receiving grants under Title IV of the ESEA:

  • Establish policies that prevent and prohibit bullying and harassment;
  • Provide notice to students, parents and educational professionals on the policies and establish a grievance procedure regarding the prohibited conduct;
  • Collect annual data on the frequency of incidents in which the prohibited conduct in these policies occur.

This bill is especially relevant to the LGBT community. GLSEN’s 2013 National School Climate Survey found that 55.5% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 37.8% because of their gender expression. This is not surprising considering the report finds that a majority of LGBT students hear negative remarks about gender expression or sexual orientation, were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and personally experience LGBT-related discriminatory policies or practices at school. In fact, 36.2% of LGBT students surveyed were physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 22.7% because of their gender expression.

The pervasiveness of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in our schools must be explicitly addressed. If passed, SSIA would do so. In the bill’s provision requiring local educational agencies in states to establish policies that prevent and prohibit bullying and harassment, it states that these policies must prohibit bullying or harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

As people of faith, our holy texts teach us that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are created in the Divine image, b’tselem Elohim (Gen. 1:27), and should thus be treated with respect and dignity. As Jews, our tradition and history teach us that we should not stand by as others suffer- we envision a government which “to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance” (George Washington, in a letter to Moses Seixas, 1790). As long as LGBT students—or any student–is victimized in their own schools and at the hands of their fellow students based on their identity, we must act. Take action now to tell your member of Congress to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

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Jordan Dashow

About Jordan Dashow

Jordan Dashow is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. He graduated in 2014 from Tufts University and is originally from Plainview, NY where he is a member of Manetto Hill Jewish Center.


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