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We need to protect LGBT youngsters from harassment at school

Imagine being afraid to go to school each day because you will be taunted and harassed, made to feel unwelcome, even fear for your physical safety. You complained to your teacher or principal, who did nothing to help you. There was no clear law in place to protect you and no one seemed to care.

This story is all too familiar for many children, including here in Alaska, who are forced to start their school day filled with dread rather than hope.

We have a responsibility to ensure every student in our great state and across the country has access to a safe, discrimination-free education, where they can focus on learning regardless of who they are.

That's why I'm supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will be offered next week by U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota as an amendment on the Senate floor. SNDA will protect all of our students from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I hope Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan will support this critically important effort.

The need for these protections is evidenced in startling statistics. According to a 2013 survey, more than 30 percent of LGBT students report missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe and nearly 60 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. You can probably guess what impact missing school and feeling unsafe has on our kids' grades, let alone their health and well-being.

The nondiscrimination act would do nothing radical or new: it will not impact schools' bottom-line finances nor impose new and costly legal liability on them. The amendment, which is modeled closely on Title IX, would simply clarify the obligation of all public K-12 schools across the country not to engage in discrimination against LGBT students or allow harassment of them to go unresolved. The cost to schools that do not discriminate against LGBT students is zero; the benefit for a student who knows he or she is protected under the law is priceless.

As a proud Alaskan and a former Republican officeholder, I support these protections for some of our most vulnerable children because I believe in the golden rule of treating others as we would want to be treated. No young person should have to fear harassment, discrimination or even physical abuse just because of who they are, particularly in our schools. Ensuring the right to a safe and supportive learning environment is a nonpartisan issue if there ever was one.

The act is likely to get a vote on the Senate floor next week. I urge Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan to stand together with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and raise their voice for our children and our children's children by voting "YES" on the nondiscrimination act so no student is taken away from what should always be their primary focus at school – learning. All of our schools should be safe and free from discrimination today so our children can create a brighter future for us tomorrow.

Arliss Sturgulewski, a two-time Republican candidate for governor, represented Anchorage in the Alaska State Senate for 14 years.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)