WASHINGTON — In the 1,150-page education bill introduced by Senate Democrats Tuesday, Sen. Tom Harkin has included a measure to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in schools — a measure that he sought to keep out of the bill in his committee just two years ago.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act appeared as part of the Democrats' "Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013." The measure is modeled after Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in schools that receive any federal funding.
The bill would ban discrimination, which includes harassment, based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any covered educational program that receives federal funding. It also would provide federal agencies and departments with the right to enforce the bill's provisions and would allow for private individuals to file lawsuits alleging violations of the law.
Back in 2011, Sen. Al Franken, the lead sponsor of the measure in the Senate, had offered the bill as an amendment to the education bill, but he later withdrew the amendment before seeking a vote on the measure because Harkin sought to pass the bill out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee with bipartisan support. Although Franken had said he would seek a floor amendment to get the measure included, he never had a chance because the bill was brought to the floor.
This year, however, the bill was introduced Tuesday with support from every Democrat on the HELP Committee and no Republicans. Among the Democrats on the committee are Franken and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the first out LGBT member of the Senate.
Rep. Jared Polis, the lead sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act in the House, praised the Senate move.
"I'm excited that the Student Non-Discrimination Act as introduced by Senator Franken today is also included in the Senate's Early Childhood Education Act (ESEA) for the first time, which would ensure that LGBT students are protected against bullying and harassment in schools," Polis said in a statement. "SNDA's inclusion in this important bill is reflective of how important protecting all students is and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Education & Workforce Committee to move forward on our bipartisan bill in the House."
The move comes just a couple weeks after several Democrats faced criticism in the Senate Judiciary Committee for their move against inclusion of protections for same-sex couples in the immigration reform bill making its way through the Senate.
Neither Harkin nor Franken's offices responded to a request for comment about the inclusion of the measure or whether such inclusion would make it more difficult to get Republican votes for the bill. There also is no mention of the measure's inclusion in the bill in the news release about the introduction on the HELP Committee web site.
Notably, however, one of the Republicans on the committee is Sen. Mark Kirk, who has been supportive of several LGBT rights measures.
LGBT advocates, who were disappointed with the 2011 decision in the committee, expressed satisfaction with Tuesday's news.
"This is a significant moment for our nation's education system and one that addresses the vital needs of all students in K-12 schools. We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment," said Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network executive director Eliza Byard.
Update at 3:30 p.m.: Frank press secretary Alexandra Fetissoff tells BuzzFeed, "Sen. Franken is very pleased that the Student Non-Discrimination Act has been included in the 'No Child Left Behind' reform bill and he looks forward to working with all of his colleagues to get the legislation out of committee."
In a statement, Franken said:
"No child should dread going to school because they don't feel safe. Our nation's civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability, and national origin. My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn't ever feel afraid of going to school. I'm also pleased my provision is now a part of the education bill that will soon be debated in the Senate Education Committee."
Update at 5:05 p.m.: Harkin says, in a statement provided to BuzzFeed:
"Because every child deserves a safe and healthy place to learn, we have included the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act in this year's reauthorization of ESEA. These provisions will help to ensure that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated fairly and afforded equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom. I applaud Senators Al Franken and Bob Casey for their leadership on these issues, and am pleased that these protections have a place in our legislation."
The markup of the legislation is slated to begin in Harkin's committee on June 11.