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March 7, 2022

Dear Senators,

As student and youth-led organizations dedicated to creating safe, accepting, and welcoming learning communities for all regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we write to express our support for the Equality Act and to urge the Senate to pass this vital piece of legislation today. 

LGBTQ+ students deserve to exist, thrive, and learn in affirming and supportive spaces, yet they disproportionately face discrimination and harassment in their schools. While it is true that some academic climates have improved over the years, this progress is not reflected everywhere.

Title IX prohibits any educational establishment receiving federal funds from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, but what happens when a school has been granted a religious exemption? The White House has yet to clarify the Trump administration’s changes to the Title IX exemption process, meaning religious institutions are automatically excluded under the law. This gives schools a pass to openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ students, reinforcing cisheteronormative culture. It also leaves LGBTQ+ young people vulnerable to victimization and violence. 

According to the 2019 GLSEN National School Climate Survey, a significant number of LGBTQ+ students in middle school and high school feel unsafe or uncomfortable at school due to the environment being hostile. An overwhelming majority of LGBTQ+ young people routinely hear queerphobic and transphobic rhetoric from peers and even educators or other school staff, leading them to avoid extracurricular activities or attending class altogether. About 86.1% of LGBTQ+ students have been harassed or assaulted based on personal characteristics including sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender. Youth with intersecting racial-ethnic, socioeconomic identities, or citizenship or ability status, further face compounding experiences of discrimination at school. 

At the post-secondary level, many LGBTQ+ students continue to disproportionately experience harassment and discrimination on their campuses, making it harder to adjust to college. At universities with explicit anti-LGBTQ+ policies, LGBTQ+ young people face greater risks of sexual assault, anxiety, and disciplinary action. This is unacceptable and cannot remain unchanged. Students at any grade level should be able to express themselves and explore their sexuality and gender safely and without judgment, fear, or consequence. Sadly, for many this is not reality. But you have a duty and an opportunity to change this in 2022.

Passing the Equality Act will ensure that LGBTQ+ youth can fully participate in student life and enjoy the same academic and extracurricular benefits as their heterosexual and cisgender peers. The bill will amend civil rights laws such as Title IX, to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, essentially bypassing the current religious exemption policy so that schools will no longer be able to masquerade their bigotry as religious freedom. Any federally funded university will be required to treat transgender students in a manner consistent with their gender identity, including when accessing locker rooms and restrooms. Further, LGBTQ+ young people will not be restricted from forming a Gay Straight Alliance or disciplined for public displays of affection that were not similarly disciplined among non-LGBTQ+ students. Fostering an inclusive and equitable atmosphere across educational institutions will positively contribute to students’ academic success, mental health, and sense of belonging. 

The civil rights protections afforded by the Equality Act are much-needed and long overdue. For far too long, the needs of LGBTQ+ students have been neglected and their voices unheard. Today, we demand they be treated with dignity and respect. Show that you are committed to the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ young people by passing this crucial piece of legislation now! 

 

 

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