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H.R. 4530: "Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2010"

Description of bill H.R. 4530.
Summary, support, & definitions of terms.

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In this website, "LGBT" is an an acronym that refers
to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and transgender persons.

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Description of the bill; summary; support:

Protection: Every public school student would be protected in two ways:

  1. The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of her/his sexual orientation, whether the student actually is or is perceived to be:
    • heterosexual (sexually attracted only to members of the opposite gender),
    • bisexual, (attracted to both males and females), or
    • homosexual (attracted only to members of the same gender).

  2. It would also extend protection from discrimination based on each student's actual or perceived gender identity, whether they are or are viewed as:
    • cisgendered (in which their perceived gender matches their genetic gender), or
    • transgender (in which their gender identity conflicts with their genetic gender).

Sponsors: As of 2010-JAN-28, the bill had 60 co-sponsors. By mid February, sponsors had reached 65.

Not surprisingly, almost all of the members of Congress who support the bill are Democrats; almost all who oppose it are Republicans. However, there are some exceptions. According to OpenCongress.org:

  • Rep. Biggert [R-IL], and Rep. Ilena Ross-Lehtinen [R-FL] support the bill.
  • Rep Stupak [D-MI] opposes the bill. 1

Referral: It has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Summary: The official Congressional summary of the bill states that it would prohibit:

"... public school students from being excluded from participating in, or subject to discrimination under, any federally-assisted educational program on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or that of their associates.

Considers harassment to be a form of discrimination.

Prohibits retaliation against anyone for opposing conduct they reasonably believe to be unlawful under this Act.

Authorizes federal departments and agencies to enforce these prohibitions by cutting off the educational assistance of recipients found to be violating them.

Allows an aggrieved individual to assert a violation of this Act in a judicial proceeding and recover reasonable attorney's fees should they prevail.

Deems a state's receipt of federal educational assistance for a program to constitute a waiver of sovereign immunity for conduct prohibited under this Act regarding such program." 2

Justification: The bill notes that:

  • LGBT public school students (and those who are perceived in error to be LGBT or who associate with LGBT people) have been the victims of "pervasive discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, and have been deprived of equal educational opportunities, in schools in every part of our Nation."

    Although not mentioned in the bill, the existence of thousands of Gay-Straight Alliances that have been organized by students in thousands of schools across North America confirm this level of discrimination.

  • Many studies conclude that various forms of discrimination -- harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, etc.-- , contributes to "high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement among LGBT youth." This has sometimes led to life-threatening violence and suicide.

  • Students are entitled to equal protection, privacy and free expression which are infringed upon when school administrations discriminate against LGBT people or are indifferent to the discrimination by others.

  • Federal laws exist to reduce discrimination in schools on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, disability and national origin, they do not incoude sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes.

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Definitions in H.R. 4530:

Many bills in Congress contain precise definitions of the terms that they use. This is extremely important for bills dealing with sexual orientation and/or gender identity. That is because religious conservatives often assign novel meanings to commonly used words and terms.

An example of this ocurred in the bill that eventually became the hate-crimes law of 2009. It is similar to H.R. 4530. It also expanded earlier legislation that protected persons of all races, colors, religions, genders, etc. by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

However, the 2009 bill contained a major deficiency. It did not define the term "sexual orientation." That caused Representative Steve King (R-IA) to say on 2009-APR-23 that "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" are vague terms that need precise definition. He said:

"This ... Judiciary Committee, including the authors of this bill -- either don't know or won't say what the definitions are, for example, gender identity [or] sexual orientation." Does sexual orientation...include transvestism? Does it include transgender [sic]? Are those two that are also part of sexual orientation? And if so, if that's two of 30 [orientations]. What are the other 28 that are part of sexual orientation?"

It was probably news to the vast majority of North Americans that there are 30 sexual orientations! Until recently, a consensus existed among mental health professional organizations, human sexuality researchers, and the rest of the public that there are precisely three sexual orientations defined according to the gender to which a person is sexually attracted.

At first glance, Rep. King may appear to have misunderstood the meaning of the term "sexual orientation." However, he seems to have followed a definition promoted by some conservative religious groups. The Concerned Women of America (CWA) and Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) define sexual orientation very differently. They:

  • Accepted the three generally accepted sexual orientations (heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality);

  • Arbitrarily added a few behaviors, such as incest and prostitution;

  • Also added 27 paraphilias as listed by the American Psychiatric Association in their "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." 3,4,5 According to Wikipedia, paraphilia "... is a sexual term that describes a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors ..." 6 Examples of paraphilias are voyeurism, bestiality, necrophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, having a foot fetish, etc.

  • Finally, they tossed transsexuality into the mix.

  • The end result is that they uniquely defined more than 30 behaviors as sexual orientaitons. More information.

This led to the informal renaming of the hate crimes act to the "pedophilia protection act" in an attempt to discredit it.

Rep. Polis seems to have learned from the hate-crimes legislation and included a definition of "sexual orientation" in his bill. It: "... means homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality."

This wording is better than no definition. However, it is open to many interpretations. Religious and social conservatives generally define "homosexuality" in terms of same-sex behavior; other groups generally define "homosexuality" in terms of the gender to whom a person is sexually attracted. This ambiguity is particularly important in this bill because some courts might follow the conservative religious definition. They may interpret the bill as protecting only those students who are sexually active. They may understand the bill as not protecting celibate persons from physical attacks or other forms of discrimination.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "H.R.4530 - Student Nondiscrimination Act of 2010," Open Congress, downloaded 2010-FEB-15, from: http://www.opencongress.org/
  2. "Official Summary," Open Congress, downloaded 2010-FEB-15, from: http://www.opencongress.org/
  3. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release, Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
  4. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values Coalition, undated, at: http://www.traditionalvalues.org/
  5. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'?" American Family Association, undated, at: http://www.afa.net/
  6. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, downloaded 2009-APR-29 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Home > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Challenges > School discrimination > here

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-FEB-11
Latest update: 2010-FEB-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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