Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have taken many steps to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.
Bullying is an epidemic that has gone ignored for too long, and far too many of our young people are targeted and harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. But across the country, Gay-Straight Alliances and other similar student groups are taking important steps to address these issues.
Last year, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and others welcomed students, parents, and teachers in addition to non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers to the White House for a Conference on Bullying Prevention. Also last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to school districts across the country in support of Gay-Straight Alliances. And today, on the occasion of the first-ever National Gay-Straight Alliance Day, Secretary Duncan has taped a video message to students, teachers, and allies to re-emphasize the Obama Administration’s commitment to safe schools for all students.
The following is a transcript of Secretary Duncan’s message:
On the first-ever National Gay-Straight Alliance Day, I want to say thank you to all of the student leaders and faculty advisors who are doing the courageous work of making campuses safe places that are free of bullying and harassment.
Harassment and bullying are serious problems at schools and colleges, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. We have to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up.
President Obama and I believe that we have a collective obligation to ensure that all our schools are safe for all children. Every single student deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential, without having to worry about the threat of harassment.
When students are harassed or bullied, it directly affects their work in the classroom, their aspirations for the future, and their desire to stay in school.
Gay-Straight Alliances and similar student groups play an important role in creating welcoming, affirming, and respectful schools and colleges – safe places where learning can happen and students flourish.
This work is absolutely essential.
GSAs are a proven tool for creating welcoming school climates and helping students stay in school.
Our team at the Department of Education is committed to giving school districts guidance on providing all students, including LGBT, gender nonconforming students, and their allies, a safe place to learn, meet, share experiences, and discuss matters that are important to them. These are goals that our Administration takes very seriously.
This day is an opportunity to recognize the importance of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools across America. On behalf of President Obama, I want to thank you for your hard work, your leadership, and your courage. Your work makes a difference – so keep it up.
Take a look at Secretary Duncan's video message, and then check out the following:
Gautam Raghavan is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement.