Sen. Al Franken calls for explicit ban on LGBT discrimination in schools

U.S. Sen. Al Franken called for an “explicit ban” on discrimination against LGBT students in a civil rights hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Franken cited the high-profile lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District, where six students and their families allege pervasive anti-LGBT harassment.

“My understanding is that LGBT persons are covered under the hate crimes act, and to the same extent that other groups like minorities and women [are],” Franken said. ”This Congress has said we need to protect LGBT Americans in the same way we protect other vulnerable groups, doesn’t it follow that we should protect LGBT students from bullying to the same extent that we protect other groups?”

Department of Justice Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez responded that bullying against LGBT students has grown in recent years.

“The bullying of kids who are LGBT is probably our largest growth area in our docket,” Perez said, citing investigations in multiple states. ”And we have an investigation in your neck of the woods in a matter,” referring to allegations of discrimination in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Perez said the issue was one of “safety, whether it’s kids who are gay or kids who are Muslim or kids who speak English with an accent.”

“This is an emerging growth area, I regret to say. That’s why the president had a day-long summit on bullying and I very much appreciate you leadership in this area,” Perez told Franken, offering his support for the Student Non-Discrimination Act. ”Kids are dying, kids are being brutally assaulted, kids are scared.”

Franken mentioned the suit brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of a gay student at Anoka-Hennepin who was a “victim of harassment.”

“A student who I will call ‘E.R.’ faced physical assaults and pervasive bullying based solely on her sexual orientation and appearance,” Franken said. ”Sadly, harassment for students based on sexual orientation and gender identity is frequent and disturbing, and while the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act provides some protection based against sexual orientation based violence, it’s clearly not doing enough for LGBT students.

Franken said that “we need an explicit ban” on discrimination against LGBT students in schools.