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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday declared his support for two bills that would protect students from bullying, then screening "Bully" the acclaimed documentary at the White House.
"The President and his Administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying. He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act [SNDA], introduced by Senator [Al] Franken and Congressman [Jared] Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act [SSIA], introduced by Senator [Robert] Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment," the White House said in a statement.
Each bill takes a different approach to address bullying. SNDA would ban harassment in public schools based on a student's actual or perceived LGBT status. SSIA would require schools to adopt anti-bullying codes of conduct and submit data to the Department of Education on bullying.
Obama's announcement coincided with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) 17th annual Day of Silence, held Friday this year, in which students take a vow of silence to draw attention to the anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.
"Bully" was shown at the White House on the day the documentary expanded its screening sites around the country.
"Earlier today, we screened 'Bully' at the White House," Valerie Jarrett, senior staff to Obama, said in a statement. "This film is a powerful call to action: We must do everything we can to work toward the day when no young person or family suffers the pain, agony, and loss caused by bulling in our schools and communities.
"In the last few years, President Obama and his Administration have taken significant steps towards this goal. We also hope that Congress will take action to ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying, and harassment by passing the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). These pieces of legislation are critically important to addressing bullying in our schools and safeguarding our most vulnerable students," she said.
About 150 people attended the screening of "Bully" at the White House, including director Lee Hirsch and many of the families and children who shared their stories in the documentary. Leaders of groups such as GLSEN, National Coalition for Learning Disabilities, Facing History, ACLU and Change.org also attended.
Obama's support for anti-bullying measures quickly drew praise, including from The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth under age 24.
"The White House took a meaningful step in protecting all students, regardless of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, by endorsing the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Together, these pieces of legislation provide tools and resources for schools and universities to protect our youth from harassment and bullying and establish structures for safety, prevention, and support," said Abbe Land, executive director and CEO of The Trevor Project.
"At The Trevor Project, we know that young people who are at risk to harm themselves, including attempting suicide, are less likely to do so if they know of one resource that they can safely turn to in times of crisis. By endorsing these important pieces of legislation, the Obama Administration is sending a strong message to ensure every school and university has the support and responsibility to be a life-saving, life-affirming resource."
Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality, also welcomed the President's support.
"These two safe schools bills are just tremendously important to trans youth and President Obama's endorsement is another example of his broad commitment to trans people and trans issues. We are thankful to Senators Al Franken and Bob Casey and Representatives Jared Polis and Linda Sanchez for their leadership on these issues. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, trans and gender nonconforming young people face startling amounts of harassment, assault and sexual violence at school, with more extreme rates of harassment and violence among trans youth of color. Trans kids are hurting and we have a way to stop that. Congress must act quickly to protect our transgender young people," Keisling said.
Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, was thrilled with the news.
"We applaud the Obama administration for endorsing this critical piece of legislation. We thank Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Tammy Baldwin and over 50 other current sponsors for their leadership on this bill and we urge Congress to pass it," she said.
"At Lambda Legal, we've encountered extraordinary cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT young people in schools - and sometimes against the allies who try to support them. The Student Non-Discrimination Act takes a big step toward a safer and healthier environment in every public school," Gorenberg said.
"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have long been at a significant disadvantage without specific protection under federal law. All students have a right to a safe learning environment, and this law will leave no doubt as to public schools' responsibility to provide it."
Joe Solmonese, HRC's outgoing president, also commented.
“The President’s endorsement of the SNDA and SSIA recognizes the importance of providing LGBT students with the same civil rights protections as other students,” Solmonese said. “No student should feel scared when walking into their school and these bills would address the discrimination and bullying that our youth have endured for far too long.”