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Franken amendment to Senate education bill would ban LGBT discrimination in schools

Sen. Al Franken delivered an emotional floor speech on Monday calling for non-discrimination protections for LGBT students in public schools.

WASHINGTON — On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Sen. Al Franken stood next to a photo of Justin Aaberg, a gay Anoka teenager who committed suicide in 2010. After his death, Franken said, “his mother learned from Justin’s friends and from messages he left before his death that he had been the victim of incessant bullying at school.” In total, the senator spoke about three American boys who took their own lives after being harassed because of their sexual orientation.

That emotional floor speech came after years of work on a piece of legislation close to the hearts of Franken, President Obama and a host of politicians and activists: the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). The law aims to enshrine into law anti-discrimination protections for LGBT students in public schools. On Tuesday afternoon, it is expected to get a vote in the full Senate for the first time ever.

Franken first introduced SNDA unsuccessfully in 2010 as a stand-alone bill. Now, he is tying its fortunes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — the massive federal K-12 education law also called No Child Left Behind which is nearing a re-authorization that’s eight years overdue.

Franken and LGBT advocates say that SNDA simply extends current law — which covers discrimination based on race, disability, gender and national origin — to sexual orientation and gender identity. Broadly, that means schools would be prohibited from excluding LGBT students from activities or services other students enjoy, or turning a blind eye to student bullying or teacher harassment. Like the landmark Title IX provision for sex-based discrimination, SNDA is enforced by linking compliance to federal funding for schools.

In his floor speech, Franken said the bullying of LGBT students had reached “epidemic proportions,” saying that 75% of LGBT students report verbal harassment at school and 35% report physical violence. Eighteen states, including Minnesota, have anti-bullying statutes which specifically extend protections to LGBT students.

Objections to SNDA, and laws like it, have centered around a perceived ambiguity of the text. In 2010, when it was first introduced, Cato Institute scholar Neal McCluskey said it would curtail free speech. “The definition of harassment could be broadly interpreted that anybody who expressed a totally legitimate opinion about homosexual behavior could be made illegal,” he said.

That was five years ago, but nevertheless, SNDA still hasn’t gained much traction among conservatives, particularly those in the House. Earlier this year, when House members were marking up their education bill in committee, SNDA was struck from consideration on a party line vote. Franken successfully attached SNDA as an amendment onto the Senate’s education reform bill.

That bill is the product of careful bipartisan compromise from the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — of which Franken is a member — and it is expected to receive broad support. Despite the House GOP’s apparent opposition, Franken is confident that SNDA has solid support that would carry through to a bicameral, bipartisan conference committee tasked with hammering out the education package once both chambers have passed bills. He cited the success of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — an LGBT workplace protection law — which passed the Senate with some GOP support in 2013.

Speaking with MinnPost after his speech Monday afternoon, Franken said, “I feel like it’s my responsibility” to help LGBT kids. “This is an education bill…it’s about doing everything we can to make sure that kids get out of school with the tools they need. It’s hard to do that if you’re afraid.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 07/14/2015 - 04:59 pm.

    Compassionate conservatives? Are there any out there?

    Any Republican who votes against this anti-discrimination bill is opposed to equal opportunity for all our children. As kids don’t get to choose who or what they are, discrimination against any of them based only on their personal characteristics is wrong. Being alive is not a crime that deserves punishment. The people who need punishment are the bullies, not the victims – and bullying of LGBT should not be tolerated by our elected and school officials. If conservatives would practice their Christianity, such laws wouldn’t be necessary.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/14/2015 - 06:18 pm.

      Bigger Issue

      I am more concerned that Al is using the LGBT kids for his own agenda and popularity. I don’t think his proposal has any chance of passing for all the reasons we have discussed many times before. I don’t think enough of the States are going to support letting the Feds dictate morality at a national level.

      Especially after the SCOTUS ruled as it did on Gay marriage, thus demeaning the beliefs of people in Conservative states who were against it. I am pretty sure they believe that they can handle this topic at the state and local levels.

      I am more frustrated that Al is claiming he wants to do “anything” to help the students, yet I am pretty sure he will avoid supporting anything that puts the needs of the kids above the wants of the status quo public schools, their unions or their bureaucracy. (ie accountability with rewards and consequences, compensation level based on performance and challenge level of the student body, layoffs based on performance not tenure, etc)

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/14/2015 - 07:06 pm.


        did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “demean” the conservative states that were against that too?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/15/2015 - 09:33 am.

        After All

        We don’t want the big, bad federal government telling states not to allow kids to be bullied. We don’t want to go around demeaning anyone’s beliefs.

        “I am more concerned that Al is using the LGBT kids for his own agenda and popularity.” Because he is the first elected official in American history to do anything like that. As a liberal Democrat who disagrees with the conservative agenda, he is incapable of doing something for legitimate motives and addressing an issue of concern to many constituents.

  2. Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/15/2015 - 01:48 am.


    If we were to recognize the fact that the “beliefs” that you purport are being demeaned are in fact demeaning to humanity as a whole, legislation such as this would be unnecessary. But as bigots still attempt to validate their rights to discriminate, non-bigots still must take actions to to eliminate their ability to do so. The bigots need to understand that they’ve lost the fight, that no action they take will return our society to its previous flawed condition, if this measure fails, I hope Sen. Franken reintroduces it at every available opportunity, for as long as he is empowered to do so, to continually shine a light on those motivated by hate and an imperious notion to subjugate the whole of society to the tenets of their narrow interpretation of faith.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/16/2015 - 02:08 pm.

      Time will tell

      When the country’s social norms are ready to change, they will. Just like they did for women, minorities, people with disabilities, etc.

      I will be fine when the LGBT folks get the same protections as noted above. However I don’t think the tipping point has been reached quite yet. Therefore Al is just blowing smoke for now.

      The question is… Is he doing anything useful for the majority of the unlucky kids who desperately need a much better education system?

      Or is he focused on caring for the adults that are part of the system?

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