As the one-month anniversary of nationwide same-sex marriage approaches, some top GOP leaders have already moved on from LGBT adults to LGBT kids. And why wouldn’t they? LGBT youth can’t vote, generally don’t get married, and have even fewer avenues for legal recourse than their adult counterparts.
If there was any doubt that youth are up next in the seemingly never-ending LGBT culture war, last week proved it. While the abortion debate took up most of the political bandwidth, some in the Republican Party were busy ensuring that LGBT youth would become a 2016 talking point.
Last Monday, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) set in motion a resolution that would allow individual scout units to decide whether or not to allow gay leadership, effectively ending the organization’s unilateral ban on gay scoutmasters. This move has already drawn the ire of two 2016 GOP hopefuls: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas governor Rick Perry.
On Tuesday, Walker said that the previous policy “protected children and advanced Scout values” and, on Sunday’s Meet the Press, Perry stood by his previous statement that “openly active gays” would be a “problem” for the BSA because they would “distract from the mission of Scouting” with “sex education.” Walker has since clarified that he believes the policy “should be left up to the leaders of the Scouts,” but Perry added on Sunday that “Scouting would be better off if they didn’t have openly gay Scoutmasters.”
Present in both Walker and Perry’s comments is the implicit assumption that all Boy Scouts are straight, despite the fact that gay youth have been able to participate openly in the BSA since January of last year.
A BSA leadership manual (PDF) says that the Scoutmaster should serve as “a mentor and role model to the Scouts.” The ban that Walker opposed—and that Perry still opposes—precludes even the possibility that a gay scout could look up to a gay Scoutmaster as a role model.
The day after Walker implied that scouts needed “protection” from homosexuality, the Senate voted down the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) that would have prohibited discrimination and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. The Republicans had already blocked similar legislation in the House in February.
As an amendment to the ECAA, the SNDA held a surprising 52-45 majority in the Senate with the help of four Republican senators but it needed 60 votes in order to pass. All 45 nays were Republicans, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham did not vote.
When the amendment came to the floor, Senator Lamar Alexander admitted that anti-LGBT bullying was a “terrible problem” but asked his fellow Republicans to cede control on this issue to state and local jurisdictions, despite the fact that federal protections in Title VI and Title IX already prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of sex and race.
As if on cue, the day after SNDA failed, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released a new report on LGBT protections—or the lack thereof—in state and school district anti-bullying policies. Among the report’s more alarming findings: Out of U.S. school districts with anti-bullying policies, less than half have enumerated protections based on sexual orientation and less than 15 percent have enumerated protections based on gender identity or gender expression.
On the state level, too, LGBT kids don’t fare much better: As of 2014, only 18 states and D.C. had LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation.
That’s comparable to the number of states that have LGBT employment protections but one key difference is that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to be prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The failure of SNDA is particularly disheartening against the backdrop of bullying that LGBT youth already face. When read in conjunction with GLSEN’s regular National School Climate Surveys (PDF)—which reveal that LGBT students experience alarmingly high rates of physical and verbal harassment—the failure of the SNDA essentially puts LGBT kids in the hands of states and school districts that already fail to provide protection.
And when lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are about four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth—this according to CDC data (PDF)—it may not be an exaggeration to say that the stakes of leaving children without the same protection as adults can be life and death.
Making this contrast between the rights of LGBT youth and adults even more painful is the fact that the EEOC also issued its landmark ruling on sexual orientation on July 15 last week, the day after SNDA fell eight votes short of becoming law. But by this point, victories for LGBT adults followed by attacks on LGBT youth are becoming something of an expected pattern.
It’s a pattern that can be witnessed in microcosm in Hood County, Texas, which initially refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the Obergefell ruling, only buckling on July 6 after a lawsuit from a gay couple. After the Supreme Court ruling came down, dozens of citizens in Hood County demanded that two LGBT-themed children’s books be removed from a public library in Granbury, Texas.
Although the books were saved by virtue of the county commissioners’ decision not to vote on the issue last week, the library director did agree to relocate This Day in June—a picture book that the School Library Journal lists at a preschool to fourth grade reading level—to “the adult nonfiction section,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
And that was just one week in legislation, policies, and controversies affecting LGBT youth, a week that fell not even a full month after a heartwarming avalanche of images of gay adults celebrating the Supreme Court decision. If it’s a sign of things to come, LGBT youth have a lot at stake in an election in which they can’t even vote as they face down bullying that they can’t protect themselves against.
Perhaps Caitlyn Jenner said it best in her ESPY Awards speech last week: “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. Because the reality is I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with being who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”