WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 — America’s parents are worried. Every day, moms and dads watch their children go to school hoping that they will learn what they need to become happy and productive members of society.
They worry, as parents always have, about whether their child is receiving the attention he needs to master Algebra, to fulfill her potential as a scientist, or to excel on college entrance exams. But with a recent high profile string of teen suicides linked to harassment in public schools, parents are also worrying about their children’s safety in ways they never have before.
Parents deserve to know that the schools they are entrusting their children to (and which they support with their tax dollars) can be held accountable to protect all students, including vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, or children who, in the eyes of a bully, are perceived as gay.
This concern transcends politics and crosses party lines, which is why Log Cabin Republicans are working together with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to pass legislation like the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Today, GLSEN has brought together students, teachers, guidance counselors and parents from across the nation to petition their representatives to address the crisis of bullying in America’s public schools.
The harms – and the costs – of antigay bullying are real. A 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year. Nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Almost a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.
Unsurprisingly, students who are harassed get lower grades, at almost half a grade lower than others (2.7 versus 3.1). As a result, many LGBT students leave school traumatized and less prepared to succeed at college and in the workforce. For too many, it is a recipe for poverty and homelessness.
As conservatives, Log Cabin Republicans believe that expanding school choice through charter schools and voucher systems can provide an important escape route for LGBT youth, giving students the ability to leave schools where they are bullied in favor of safer alternatives. Tying school funding to students would give schools a financial incentive to ensure that every student feels safe, and parents would be empowered to demand that administrations take bullying seriously.
Unfortunately, right now these programs are all too rare, and few LGBT students are able to escape abusive environments. America’s parents are right to expect more from our public schools.
Across the United States, Republican leaders agree. From Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) to Congressman Don Young (R-AK), conservatives in Congress have answered the call to co-sponsor the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which uses existing federal funds to enable teachers, administrators and support staff to combat bullying in America’s schools. Last year, three Republican New Jersey congressmen; Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo and Jon Runyan stepped up to become the first GOP elected officials to appear in the anti-bullying “It Gets Better” campaign.
In the states, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law into law.
Just this weekend, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee used his popular platform on FOX News to discuss the upcoming film “Bully.” Fans of the show flocked to Huckabee’s Facebook page to thank him for the segment. “Thank you for bringing more awareness with ‘Bully.’ My son has a brain injury from a school bully when he was 14. He is now 24 and unable to work. I pray that with the movie and you bringing attention to this terrible problem that there will be more positive results. God bless you,” wrote one mother.
Another wrote, “I am retired military and have 2 boys, one of which experienced bullying in middle school. It was so bad that we transferred schools.” The fact is, you don’t have to support marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or any other gay rights issue to know that harassment in our schools is wrong, and that we have a responsibility to make it better.
Today there are more than forty students, teachers and parents walking the halls of Congress asking their representatives to make their schools safer as part of GLSEN’s annual lobby day. More than any generation of LGBT Americans before them, these children have grown up believing in their freedom to be who they are and in their worth as human beings, but they claim that freedom at a high cost.
They tell stories of being pelted with food in lunch rooms, hearing slurs so often that they are conditioned to flinch at the sound of their own names, being sexually assaulted by teammates in locker rooms, and authority figures who witnessed it all and turned a blind eye. But still, in the finest American tradition, they have come to Washington holding their heads high to petition their representatives for the respect, dignity and basic protections they deserve.
They have come here because they want to learn. There is much we can learn from them.
R. Clarke Cooper, an Eagle Scout, decorated Army combat veteran and former diplomat, was elected Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans in 2010. Log Cabin Republicans works to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party by promoting core conservative values while advocating for the freedom and equality of gay and lesbian Americans.
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