US: Student Non-Discrimination Act Reintroduced in Congress

SNDA reintroduced as Betsy DeVos declines to help trans students

On the heels of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos saying the Trump administration won’t take up complaints of anti-trans bathroom discrimination in schools until Congress clarifies the law, lawmakers have reintroduced legislation that would spell out anti-LGBT discrimination is unlawful.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Polis said in a statement the legislation is necessary because “all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe learning space and should feel comfortable at school.”

“Congress needs to act and let all students know that we are on their side, and we not only believe everyone belongs — we believe that every child deserves a safe and civil learning environment,” Polis said.

Polis and Baldwin, both gay lawmakers, reintroduce the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) as they seek election to statewide office. Polis is running to become governor of Colorado and Baldwin seeks re-election to the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.

Modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, SNDA would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. That would include harassment of LGBT students, barring gay students from taking a same-sex date to a prom or prohibiting transgender kids from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

Baldwin said in a statement SNDA is important because “Congress must make absolutely clear” every student, including those are LGBT, must not face discrimination in schools. “As multiple federal courts of appeals have recognized, current law is properly understood to protect these young people,” Baldwin said. “But with the Trump administration walking back the federal government’s commitment to equality, it is critical that Congress act to eliminate any doubt and ensure these students are protected from discrimination.” Read more via Washington Blade

Statement from the HRC: Student Non-Discrimination Act Reintroduced in Congress

Today, pro-equality champions in the Senate and House of Representatives reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA)—legislation that would protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in schools throughout the country.

The legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., would explicitly prohibit all K-12 public schools from discriminating against any student based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bars discrimination based on sex in education programs, and numerous federal courts have rightly interpreted this to include discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex-stereotyping. However, many school districts and the Trump Administration continue to refuse to recognize the rights of LGBTQ students under Title IX.

In fact, the first major action that Secretary Betsy DeVos took after becoming Secretary of Education was to rescind guidance detailing schools’ obligations to protect transgender students under Title IX. Last month, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education announced that it will no longer even investigate claims of discrimination by transgender students who lack access to appropriate facilities.  

LGBTQ students and their families are understandably alarmed by these developments. They already face pervasive discrimination and harassment, depriving them of equal educational opportunities in schools around the country. When students don’t feel safe or welcome in school, they face high rates of absenteeism, dropout, academic underachievement and even adverse health consequences. 

SNDA has received broad support from education, civil rights, and LGBTQ advocacy organizations. In 2015, SNDA was offered as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While a majority of Senators voted in favor of the amendment, including 7 Republicans, it unfortunately did not receive the 60 votes needed to proceed.

HRC is proud to work with the sponsors of the Student Non-Discrimination Act to guarantee that LGBTQ students have strong legal protections nationwide and to ensure they are safe and welcome in their schools. Read more via HRC