Rep. Norcross Offers Non-Discrimination Amendment to D.C. School Voucher Program

Jordan Dashow

Yesterday, Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ) offered an amendment to legislation reauthorizing the District of Columbia school voucher program to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in schools that receive these taxpayer-funded vouchers. Unfortunately, the House Rules Committee, an extension of the Republican-controlled House leadership, which is tasked with deciding which amendments can be voted on, refused to allow Rep. Norcross to offer his amendment to the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act on the House floor.

Rep. Norcross’ amendment would have explicitly prohibited any school participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program — which provides annual scholarships to eligible students to attend a private school in Washington, D.C. — from discriminating on the basis of any protected category in the D.C. Human Rights Act, including actual or perceived “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, political affiliation, source of income, or disability of any individual." The SOAR Act is not required to comply with this standard and only prohibits discrimination on the basis of "race, color, national origin, religion, or sex." Consequently, schools participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program will not be explicitly required to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

This is especially alarming, as LGBTQ youth face many challenges, especially at school. HRC’s groundbreaking report, Growing Up LGBT in Americafound that LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school. Twenty-one percent of LGBTQ youth identified school/bullying as the most important problem facing them right now. Shockingly, 74 percent said that they have heard negative messages about their sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

HRC applauds Rep. Norcross for his leadership in bringing attention to this important issue, and we are extremely disappointed that Republican leadership refused to even allow for a debate and vote on this important measure. All students deserve to learn in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

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