Sen. Al Franken Introduces LGBT Student Protection Bill

by Kilian Melloy
Friday May 21, 2010

Minnesota Democratic senator Al Franken has introduced a bill that would make anti-gay bullying in schools a federal offense--an important step for GLBT youth, given that the overwhelming majority of gay and lesbian middle and high schoolers are subjected to anti-gay taunts, harassment, and even physical abuse, sometimes by their own teachers.

Even when teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not actively involved in such harassment, all too often they do nothing to intervene when a student who is gay--or perceived as gay--is targeted for abuse by his peers, as happened to a gay freshman named Andy Berlin, according to a May 20 article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul newspaper the Star-Tribune.

"Well, it's not right, but it's high school. It's to be expected," was how Berlin characterized the response of his own high school when he reported the abuse he endured.

Such disinterested attitudes have been met with lawsuits in the past, in extreme cases, and school boards have had to pony up tens of thousands of dollars as a result, a diversion of critically needed funds away from the classroom. But no federal law currently exists that specifically protects young GLBTs. Franken's bill--the Student Non-Discrimination Act, SNDA--would correct that, adding GLBT youth to the demographics that are currently protected by law.

"Our nation's civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability and national origin," noted Franken. "My proposal corrects a glaring injustice and extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who need them just as badly."

Franken's measure has garnered the support of 22 co-sponsors, the article noted, but another Minnesota Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was not among them at first. Klobuchar did add her support after being approached by GLBT rights group the Family Equality Council, the article said.

In addition to criminalizing anti-gay harassment and violence at school, the bill provides penalties for schools that do nothing when its students are being bullied. Under the bill's provisions, standing by and doing nothing while GLBT kids are attacked will mean a loss of federal funds. The bill also forbids discrimination by the schools themselves.

The federal bill is similar to one that state lawmakers approved last year, the article noted, only to be vetoed by Minnesota's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty.

Anti-bullying legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, but another federal lawmaker from Minnesota, Rep. John Kline, is against the House bill. Kline invoked the argument used by anti-gay opponents to hate crimes protections, who claim that such protections would victimize people of faith by turning religiously based anti-gay comments into "thought crimes," even though anti-discrimination laws only punish actions, not opinions or beliefs. "We should do what we can to prevent any student from being bullied," said Kline, going on to add, "But I have serious concerns about any bill that turns our educators into 'thought police' and opens the door to endless lawsuits and litigation against our schools."

Next: Safe Schools Advoctes: Now's the Time


  • DEA, 2010-05-23 23:49:25

    It’s LGBT, and it’s great to see people start to take action for civil rights :)

  • angelgaga, 2010-05-24 10:59:26

    As an educator I assure you it happens every day. Students need this protection, as do LGBT teachers.

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