This week, students across the country will participate in The Day of Silence, a remarkable event that rallies thousands of young people to stand in solidarity with their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender classmates. Later today, in Los Angeles, more than 900 students from the Los Angeles Unified School District will join PFLAG executive director Jody Huckaby, GLSEN executive director Kevin Jennings, and others in a press event to draw attention to this year's observance.
Yet, as so many young people take such brave stands for equality, some elected leaders are one step behind reality when it comes to making our schools safer and more welcoming for LGBT students. Take, for example, the Louisiana House of Representatives, which is currently considering H.B. 674, a safe schools initiative that protects some students, but leaves the most vulnerable behind.
H.B. 674, sponsored by State Representative Walt Leger, prohibits the harassment, intimidation or bullying of a student based on, among other categories, race, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation. But the bill, which is expected to be voted on the next 10 days or so, does not include transgender or gender-variant students.
That's unacceptable, and that's why PFLAG, and our New Orleans chapter, will not testify in favor of the bill. There is much education that remains to be done. And too many students remain vulnerable under this legislation, which is not all-inclusive.
Indeed, it is often transgender and gender-variant children who face the most horrific taunting, harassment, bullying and abuse. Studies show they are more likely to drop out of school, suffer from depression, or attempt suicide. And the severe bullying that many of them endure renders it nearly impossible to fully participate in the classroom experience. They are too fearful to learn. They feel unwelcome, unsafe and unappreciated in school environments where harassment is rampant . . . and often unchecked and unpunished.
None of our children are "less than," and any legislation that implies as much needs to be revised.
So, PFLAG is joining forces with our New Orleans chapter to call on lawmakers to take one more step in the right direction, and include transgender and gender-variant students as part of H.B. 674. Because we simply cannot stand by as some students are shuffled to the side.
If you are a Louisiana voter, please encourage your Representative to support amending the bill to include everyone. Leaving children behind because of their gender identity or expression is unconscionable. Including everyone is just simply the right thing to do.