March 21, 2018 at 2:55 pm PST | by Chris Johnson
SNDA reintroduced as Betsy DeVos declines to help trans students

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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 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.”

In years past, former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota had introduced SNDA in the Senate, but he’s no longer able to lead the bill because he recently resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

The lawmakers introduced the legislation one day after DeVos said during a congressional hearing the Education Department won’t interpret Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in schools, to apply to cases of transgender students denied access to school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. DeVos said the Trump administration won’t act “until the Supreme Court or Congress clarifies the law.”

The re-introduction of SNDA, however, is unlikely a knee-jerk reaction to DeVos’ comments because the bill’s leaders are touting more than 100 co-sponsors in both chambers of Congress.

Among the original co-sponsors is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Republican former school teacher set to retire at the end of this Congress who has a transgender son.

“We have seen too many cases of LGBT youth feeling unaccepted, and this can lead to depression, substance abuse, and, in some cases, suicide,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We have the opportunity to make a difference by fostering a more inclusive environment for students to succeed.”

Another former teacher who has co-sponsored the legislation is Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), a gay lawmaker who has supported LGBT rights in Congress.

“After more than 20 years teaching in California’s public schools, few things matter more to me than ensuring that every young person in America is able to attend a school free from fear and discrimination,” Takano said. “That is why I am proud to join Rep. Polis as he reintroduces the Student Non-Discrimination Act. America’s LGBTQ youth often face harrowing discrimination in their schools — mistreatment that can impact their academic achievement and forever limit their success in life.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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