This past fall, a string of suicides among gay teens sparked a national conversation and prompted President Obama to remark, "Bullying isn't a problem that makes headlines every day. But every day, it touches the lives of young people across the county." Indeed, millions of kids go to school every day in fear of being verbally and/or physically tormented.
Growing up gay, I was one of those kids. Back then, the predominant attitude toward bullying was apathy. Getting pick-on, teased, or even roughed up in school was perceived as just part of the deal if you stood out or were different. Thankfully, attitudes are changing.
On March 8, Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), S. 506. This bill, if passed, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment -- including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, schools would have to report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education. The Education Department would then be required to report this data to Congress every two years.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently revealed some startling figures. They found that nearly three-fifths of all students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third felt unsafe because of their gender expression. In addition, 84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed, and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. We also know that a majority of teen suicides occur in LGBT youths.
Parents of gay teens have spoken of their efforts to get schools to address the problem of bullying. But in many cases, concerns fall on deaf ears, and in the wake of tragedy, administrators seem more interested in denials, than honest assessments of their failure to protect kids at risk.
This is all tragic and unacceptable, and must change. And this legislation is an important step.
Please call or write your local Senators (you can get their contact info here) and ask them to support this important piece of legislation. This is not a partisan issue, this is something that truly affects all kids. Let's not turn our backs on them.