In news that will not dominate the 24 hour cable news cycle, this past week the Obama administration endorsed two important pieces of legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA). These bills that are currently pending in Congress and seek to address bullying and discrimination faced by students, particularly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).
According to the Huffington Post, the SNDA “would provide students with explicit federal protections by establishing a comprehensive prohibition against discrimination and harassment in all public elementary and secondary schools across the country based on a student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The move to back this legislation is being commended by The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading organization dedicated to empowering Black LGBT people. SSIA and SNDA would have a great impact on the lives of Black LGBT students. A study released by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) showed that around 25 percent of Black LGBT students have missed at least one full day of school in the past month because they were uncomfortable or felt unsafe in their surroundings, compared to just 6.3 percent of all Black students and 3.5 percent of all White students.
In a statement, the NBJC Executive Director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks said, “NBJC applauds the Obama Administration for supporting these two critical bills that will bring our schools closer to being nurturing, affirming environments where all our students feel safe and obtain the skills necessary for success.” Passage of these laws is critical to ensuring that all young people have an equal opportunity for academic success, and that no one’s identity will serve as a hindrance to a quality education.
When we discuss what the Obama administration has done for the Black community, this legislation should be brought up. As filmmaker and activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons notes in her recent four-part essay, “Who Will Revere US? (Black LGTBQ People, Straight Women, and Girls),” it’s important that we not center the struggle for equality on the lives of straight Black men and boys. Our community is broader than that and has many issues that must be tackled, and neglecting to acknowledge that does more harm than good.
Simmons sums up the issue beautifully, saying: “The reality is this: when Black straight men and boys are beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of state-sanctioned and/or white supremacist violence, it becomes (as well it should be) a national issue in the Black community and in a few, definitely not all, instances, the outrage moves beyond the Black community. Yet, when Black straight women, girls, and LGBTQ people are raped, sexually assaulted, beaten, brutalized, and/or murdered as a result of misogynist, patriarchal, state-sanctioned, and/or white supremacist violence, it is too often the victim’s individual issue.”