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Rep. Linda Sanchez Headshot

LGBT Youth Need Our Voices to Stand Up to Bullying

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Imagine having to wake up every day afraid of going to school. Afraid that other students will harass and torment you for your perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender expression, race, disability, country of origin, or just because.

That is the reality that millions of students are facing every day. As a mother, the national bullying statistics break my heart. As a legislator, I know there is more we can do to protect our children from this type of harassment at school.

Bullying can be especially traumatic for young LGBT students growing up in communities where heterosexuality is presented as the more acceptable orientation. On today's National Day of Silence, I am proud to once again partner with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a network of over 8,500 LGBT youth, to raise awareness about the prevalence of bullying in our schools and to uplift the voices of students who have been victims of bullying.

According to a study by GLSEN, over 80 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed in the last year because of their sexual orientation and over 10 percent reported being physically assaulted because of their gender expression. Almost one-third of LGBT students reported missing at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.

One of these students is Christin. Weeks after she started high school, Christin was outed and became the subject of verbal and physical harassment. She still remembers when a group of students ganged up on her in the locker room and told her they were going to "beat her straight." Christin was too scared to tell administrators about the incident because she was afraid they would tell her parents, whom she feared would disown her if they discovered she was gay.

Christin's story is not unique. Every day students are facing similar situations in schools across the country. She is part of a brave group of students who traveled to Capitol Hill this week to share personal stories and talk to legislators about the detrimental effects of bullying and harassment in schools.

Schools can play an integral part in stemming that harassment. That is why I was proud to introduce the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would create national anti-bullying standards and would allow schools to use existing funds to focus on prevention strategies designed to help school personnel address bullying and harassment. It would also educate students about the detrimental effects of bullying and harassment.

This legislation is a special priority for me because I have heard far too many stories from families and students about how bullying has caused them to drop out of school or even to end their lives.

While the Safe Schools Improvement Act requires no additional spending, the much larger cost is to our children if we don't fully address the issue of bullying.

That is the message that the mother of 13-year-old Seth shared with me when I met her at a Department of Education Bullying Prevention Summit. Her son Seth hanged himself after facing extreme bullying in school.

Seth's story is a tragedy that could have been prevented and one we have to learn from. We can honor his memory and that of similar youth by doing everything in our power to ensure that schools are safe for every student.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act has a record number of co-sponsors this year. 193 bipartisan Members of Congress have committed to stepping up against bullying and harassment in our schools. We need a few more to move the legislation through the House and give students the promise of safer schools.

For too long our society has shrugged off bullying by labeling it a "rite of passage" and by asking students to simply "get over it." Those attitudes need to change. Every day students are bullied into silence and are afraid to speak up. Let's break this silence and end school bullying.