Happy Pride! This year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests against racial terror and the police brutality targeting the Black community, it is more important than ever to remember that the first Pride, over fifty years ago, was an uprising against police brutality led by queer women of color.
That first Pride, the memory of which has been nearly erased by corporate greed and the whitewashing of queer history, pushed back against police brutality and systemic discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community. Leaders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, founders of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), took to the streets to demand an end to institutionalized violence against the community perpetrated at the hands of police and policymakers.
That first Pride, the memory of which has been nearly erased by corporate greed and the whitewashing of queer history, pushed back against police brutality and systemic discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community.
Today we call on federal policymakers, in the spirit of queer women of color that led the way during our first Pride protests, to take steps to protect LGBTQI+ youth, particularly Black youth, youth of color, and homeless youth, from the institutionalized violence and bias they may face in schools across the nation.
Here are five things that the federal government needs to do to protect LGBTQI+ students and honor the memory of those first Pride protests.
1. Stop discriminating against LGBTQI+ students.
The Trump administration has taken severe, and often drastic, steps to strip away the rights of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary students in K–12 schools, colleges, and universities.
The U.S. Department of Education needs to reinstate the Obama-era guiance protecting transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary students’ rights under Title IX, and rescind the threat to cut funding to Connecticut schools and districts under the current administration’s flawed understanding of federal legislation. The current guidance allows for school and district discrimination against LGBTQI+ students using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and competing in sports teams.
The administration can and should take these actions in order to prevent discrimination against LGBTQI+ students and student athletes.
2. Preserve and strengthen the Civil Rights Data Collection.
The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for leading the biannual Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which collects data on and identifies systemic and particular cases of bias and discrimination. It is the largest data collection of its kind, identifying systemic gaps in resource allocations, educational programming, and student experiences across the country. Currently, the CRDC does not track metrics specifically focused on the LGBTQI+ community.
The administration should add data collection metrics for LGBTQI+ students, specifically on sexual orientation, gender expression, and/or identity. Without these data, we can’t know if discrimination, systemic or otherwise, is occurring in a school or district. The addition of these metrics would allow communities, districts, and schools to identify and address systemic bias and discrimination. The administration needs to fix the debilitated data collection system, such as the department’s processes used to detect data problems, so that data collection can be accurate and data analysis can be done effectively and efficiently.
3. Congress should pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Equality Act.
Two pieces of congressional legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Equality Act, would make especially necessary progress in protecting LGBTQI+ rights for young people. They would require that districts prohibit bullying and harassment of LGBTQI+ students and prohibit discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The SSIA, for its part, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require school districts to prohibit bullying and harassment. This broad prohibition on bullying and harassment serves to not just protect LGBTQI+ students, but also students of color, of whom 36 percent report bullying due to race, national origin, disability and religion. SSIA would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education, which would provide Congress with a report on the state reported data every two years.
The Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, and credit.
4. Appropriate more money to McKinney–Vento, the federal program to support homeless students, with regular public reporting requirements.
LGBTQI+ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness. But homelessness is more than just an LGBTQI+ issue: it disproportionately impacts young people of color as well. For instance, 12 percent of all students experiencing homelessness in Washington State identify as Black, but Black Americans make up only 5 percent of the state’s total student population.
LGBTQI+ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness. But homelessness is more than just an LGBTQI+ issue: it disproportionately impacts young people of color as well.
Congress needs to appropriate an additional $200 million to the McKinney–Vento program, which the federal government can then distribute to states and districts. McKinney–Vento is a federally funded program which ensures equitable access to resources and educational opportunity for homeless students. These additional funds should be used by schools and districts to reach more homeless youth, and there should be public reporting on these new funds, with data metrics so that schools, districts, and communities can accurately count and assess the current homeless student population, in order to better support them.
5. Get cops out of schools.
According to a Lambda Legal survey, 73 percent of the LGBTQI+ community had face-to-face contact with the police within the past five years. In 2015, 58 percent of survey respondents who identified as transgender reported mistreatment by police. Police brutality is a dire issue for LGBTQI+ folks, and one that impacts our youngest community members in schools.
Law enforcement has no business in schools in the first place, especially when they are enacting disciplinary actions in lieu of school counselors. Following the calls of activists nationwide to remove police presence from schools, Congress should pass legislation which forbids the employment of police forces in schools. Instead, schools and districts should invest in restorative justice and commit to training teachers culturally appropriate disciplinary measures.
This Pride season, with the threat of COVID-19 still looming over schools and with uprisings against police brutality happening across the country, the federal government should honor the memory of the first Pride and protect LGBTQI+ students in schools.