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Lawmakers Renew Push to Increase Protections for LGBT Students in Schools

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A bill introduced by a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers would create a broad federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools "based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity" of students.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, which has been proposed in previous sessions of Congress and endorsed by the White House, has been pitched as providing the same explicit protections for LGBT students in schools that Title IX provides for women. 

It was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, plans to introduce the bill in the Senate.

In addition to direct discrimination, schools would be in violation of the act if they didn't sufficiently protect students from bullying and harrassment on the basis of real or percieved sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Every day, students who are (or are perceived to be) lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are subjected to pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, and violence," says a statement in support of the bill on Franken's website. "Surveys indicate that nearly nine out of ten LGBT students have been bullied, which contributes to their high rates of absenteeism, academic underachievement, and even higher rates of suicide. Shockingly, more than one-third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have attempted suicide."

The U.S. Department of Education has said in various pieces of civil rights guidance that, in addition to protection from discrimination based on sex, Title IX provides protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. But advocates for LGBT youth have said federal agencies haven't said enough to explicitly protect the rights of these students, in particular transgender students.

And the bill makes a similar statement that "the absence of express Federal law prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has created unnecessary uncertainty that risks limiting access to legal remedies under Federal law for LGBT students and their parents."

This isn't the only proposal on Capitol Hill that deals with LGBT students. As Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known in its current form as No Child Left Behind, proposals are flying left and right to make all sorts of tweaks and changes to the way the federal government oversees education. Among those proposals is the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would mandate anti-bullying policies on the local level. The proposal would require those policies to include prohibitions on bullying and harrassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

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