Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Franken Amendment to Senate Education Bill Would Ban LGBT Discrimination in Schools

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Franken Amendment to Senate Education Bill Would Ban LGBT Discrimination in Schools

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Sen. Al Franken stood next to a photo of Justin Aaberg, a gay Anoka teenager who committed suicide in 2010. After his death, Franken said, "his mother learned from Justin's friends and from messages he left before his death that he had been the victim of incessant bullying at school." In total, the senator spoke about three American boys who took their own lives after being harassed because of their sexual orientation.

That emotional floor speech came after years of work on a piece of legislation close to the hearts of Franken, President Obama and a host of politicians and activists: the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). The law aims to enshrine into law anti-discrimination protections for LGBT students in public schools. On Tuesday afternoon, it is expected to get a vote in the full Senate for the first time ever.

Franken first introduced SNDA unsuccessfully in 2010 as a stand- alone bill. Now, he is tying its fortunes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- the massive federal K-12 education law also called No Child Left Behind which is nearing a re- authorization that's eight years overdue.

Franken and LGBT advocates say that SNDA simply extends current law -- which covers discrimination based on race, disability, gender and national origin -- to sexual orientation and gender identity. Broadly, that means schools would be prohibited from excluding LGBT students from activities or services other students enjoy, or turning a blind eye to student bullying or teacher harassment. Like the landmark Title IX provision for sex-based discrimination, SNDA is enforced by linking compliance to federal funding for schools.

In his floor speech, Franken said the bullying of LGBT students had reached "epidemic proportions," saying that 75% of LGBT students report verbal harassment at school and 35% report physical violence. …

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