Late last week, the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives blocked a floor vote on the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would create a comprehensive prohibition against discrimination of LGBT students in our public schools. That such an important piece of legislation would not even be allowed to go to the floor for a vote is very disappointing.
As frustrating as this latest development is, however, it’s not the end of the Student Non-Discrimination Act. We will be back, and in time LGBT students will get the equality that they so deserve. Every student deserves the opportunity to benefit equally from a quality public education that is free of discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While the leadership of the House succeeded in blocking a floor vote this time, they weren’t able to stop representatives from speaking out on the House floor to express their own personal disappointment. It was heartening to see that so many members of Congress would be willing to stand up for LGBT students in this way, and it further adds to our confidence that the bill will one day become law.
The need for this legislation remains as vital as ever, not just nationwide but here in Maine too. A recent report by GLSEN found that 8 in 10 LGBT students in Maine experienced verbal harassment in school, 3 in 10 were physically harassed based on their sexual orientation, and nearly 9 in 10 regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender. These numbers are unacceptable and they demand action.
Once the new school year begins, we’ll be traveling around the state to educate students about their rights here in Maine under the new anti-bullying law. Thankfully there are laws in place to protect students who are bullied or harassed at school, but they don’t go far enough. The Student Non-Discrimination Act is the single most important step Congress could take to improve the lives of LGBT students, and we won’t stop pressuring them until they pass it – no matter how many setbacks there are along the way.