The Time Is Now: Bring Equal Protection to LGBT Youth

As many continue to celebrate marriage equality, it's time to direct and extend our movement's focus to our LGBT youth, who are more likely to experience harassment and acts of violence while in school, yet are least likely to receive any help or support from administration. To the dismay of LGBT youth advocates and allies across the nation, America still lacks a national, comprehensive policy to protect its LGBT youth, as federal civil rights laws do not currently address harassment based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Though some schools have adopted anti-bullying policies and tough zero tolerance approaches, many schools have turned a blind eye to the abuse and neglect with which our LGBT youth are often met.

According to studies like the 2013 GLSEN School Climate Survey, 74.1% of LGBT students reported that they were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; additionally, 55.5% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. According to various other studies, as many as 85% of LGBT youth experience some form of harassment while in school. These numbers are based solely upon what students have bravely shared---the statistics could be much higher. From the time our students enter our doors to the time they graduate, all students deserve and are in dire need of the safety that public schools claim to offer.

As the 2015 graduation season came to an end, I was struck by two stories about valedictorian speeches that circulated the internet. One involved Evan Young, a valedictorian from Twin Peaks Charter Academy, who was denied the right to "come out" during his valedictorian speech. The other story involved girl, Emily Bruell, valedictorian of Roaring Fork High School, who received a standing ovation at her graduation ceremony when she came out during her speech. They both hail from the same state of Colorado.

Though these youth shared similar educational values and commitments to excellence----rising to the top of their perspective high school classes---they clearly had surprisingly different experiences as they sought to conclude on those accomplishments. It makes me wonder: what other differences existed between those two school cultures? Many students attend schools and campuses where administrators are allowed to deny the formation of Gay Straight Alliances and other LGBT affirming clubs and organizations. A supportive administrator can mean life or death for our students.

As seen in the case of a young boy stabbed in Atlanta, administrators and adults are not held accountable when LGBT students face threats and discrimination. According to Tim Jefferson, a 16 year old from Carver School of Technology, his principal watched along as a mob attacked Jefferson and a friend, but his principal did nothing to help. This type of injustice must change, and the change must come now. The inequity of these students and their situations is only echoed by the absence of a national policy to protect them.

Thankfully, there are two key pieces of legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which seek to ensure that all students are treated fairly and equally by administration, faculty and staff.

As an educator and activist, I have to ask: why has it taken our country so long to put protections like this in place? With the growing number of studies that prove LGBT youth are at risk for suicide, depression, and truancy, why has it taken our politicians and policymakers so long to take a stand on these very important issues? I'm sure many are wondering the very same thing.

For whatever reason, it feels as though the political climate is just right to put these pieces of legislation into the right hands, and onto the floors, where hopefully, the right number of politicians will see their importance, and push their adoption. For the sake of our youth, I hope that is exactly what will happen.