by David Cohen
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced an important bill today that would offer remedies for discrimination “based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” in public elementary and secondary schools. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would help to end entrenched biases towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in our education system. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and currently has over 100 co-sponsors. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly supports these bills and urges swift action by both chambers.
The ACLU is currently involved in a case that underscores the need for the SNDA. In April, the ACLU filed a complaint with the Itawamba County School District in Fulton, Mississippi urging the school district to reverse its decision to forbid a lesbian student from attending a prom with her girlfriend and from wearing a tuxedo to the prom. After school officials canceled the prom altogether rather than allow Constance McMillen to attend the dance in a tuxedo with her girlfriend, the ACLU then filed a federal lawsuit. In a preliminary ruling in April, the court found that Itawamba County School District officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and the case is expected to go to trial.
The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
“The Student Non-Discrimination Act is an answer to a persistent problem. As we have seen recently in Constance McMillen’s case, LGBT students continue to face harassment and intolerance every day. Under the Student Non-Discrimination Act, McMillen and LGBT students like her would have a federal statute to protect them.Our public schools should be a safe harbor for our students, not a place of exclusion and ridicule. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will go a long way toward protecting our students and will promote both equality in schools and a safer learning environment. We urge the both the House and Senate to make this bill a priority.”