- Senators Bob Casey
and Al Franken
and Representatives Jared Polis
and Linda Sanchez
were joined by singer Clay Aiken
, Dancing with the Stars' Louis Van Amstel
, and Sirdeaner Walker
and Tammy Aaberg
, two mothers who lost their sons to suicide after they faced in-school bullying, to stress the importance of two bills that address the bullying and harassment of students in schools.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez and Sen. Bob Casey, is a federal anti-bullying bill that includes protections based on race, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The bill has bi-partisan support and currently has 130 cosponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), modeled after Title IX, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis and Sen. Al Franken, would provide protections to students targeted for bullying, harassment and discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill currently has 127 cosponsors in the House and 30 cosponsors in the Senate.
"Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. "Countless youth are denied access to an education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools."
"We gather here today as a call to action to stress the importance of the safety and well-being of children in our schools," said Senator Casey. "Recent stories of the tragic effects of bullying in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are evidence of the urgent need to address this issue in our schools. We owe it to our children to do whatever we can to ensure their pleas for help do not go unheard."
"No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied," said Senator Al Franken. "With the spate of recent suicides in Minnesota that were linked to anti-LGBT bullying, it's clear that we need to do more to ensure schools provide a safe environment for all students. We must address bullying and harassment in schools in the next Congress."
"Bullying and harassment can destroy a child's confidence and self-esteem, leading to academic failure, depression, and even suicide. We should not need to witness one more loss of life, like those our nation experienced recently, in order to come together and combat this growing epidemic. But come together we must. We must commit to eliminate bullying wherever it occurs, whether in suburban academies, country school houses, or crowded inner-city high schools. No family or community should ever have to suffer these devastating tragedies," said Representative Linda Sanchez.
"Every student has the right to an education free from bullying, harassment, and violence, and we are here today to show that Congress is ready to take a stand against bullying in our schools," said Representative Jared Polis. "Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s, the Student Non-Discrimination Act will address discriminatory and dangerous school climates and put LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers. As the rash of suicides and violence have shown, school bullying affects students in both red states and blue states and is an issue that demands attention from the next Congress. I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that all students can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear."
Sirdeaner Walker became a safe schools advocate after losing her 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover last year after relentless bullying in a school district that ignored her concerns for her child's safety and well-being. "Over the past few months I have heard so many stories about other youth who were suffering," said Walker. "Too many of our children are being tormented in schools" - and not enough of our adults are doing the right thing and teaching respect for all. Enough is enough! Teachers, parents, clergy and community members must stand together and make change. We know the problems and we know the solution that can make a difference - all that remains is to act."
Tammy Aaberg, a mother of three who lost her 15-year-old son to bullying shared her pursuit of enumerated anti-bullying policies in her school district. Aaberg asked elected officials to "please put aside politics and personal beliefs and implement the policies that we know will help our schools be safe and affirming learning environments for all students. Whether they are straight or gay, they all deserve the right to an education...and the right to survive."
Clay Aiken, known to many as an American Idol star, is also a father and a former special education teacher who feels strongly about enacting specific anti-bullying protections so that future generations have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. "I never had someone who told me that it was ok to be different...that it was okay to be me. What I did hear was that it would get better once I was out of high school...that things would get better. But from where I sat, I could not possibly believe that to be true. We need federal leadership from Congress to encourage all states and districts and each and every school to create safe learning environments where all students can learn and succeed."
Joey Kemmerling, a 16 year-old gay student from Bucks County, Penn., talked about his personal experiences with bullying and harassment in school. "I came out when I was in the eighth grade," he said, "and not a day goes by when I don't hear the word 'fag' directed at me. I hope that Congress takes action to help all students, including students like me, so we can go to school and be safe and free to learn rather than be in fear."
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org