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The Civil Rights Division and LGBT rights

Under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, and with the strong support of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has worked to reinvigorate its more traditional enforcement responsibilities and transform itself to meet the civil rights challenges of the 21st century.   Among these challenges is the struggle to achieve equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.   This week, Assistant Attorney General Perez joined the Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, and U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, to celebrate LGBT Heritage in Cleveland. During remarks delivered at the celebration and awards ceremony held in the City Hall Rotunda, Assistant Attorney General Perez said:
 “From our nation’s founding, individuals have fought for their rights, facing dozens of defeats for each victory.  Progress has so often been painfully incremental. But each victory, however small, was motivation enough to keep moving.  And so it has gone with the fight for LGBT equal rights.  For decades now you have stood up to challenge discrimination, misconception and sometimes hatred. And hard-fought victories have been won.  But the people in this room know that we have not yet reached our goal.” 
 The Civil Rights Division is committed to advancing the rights of LGBT individuals, and to using its existing authorities in support of LGBT rights.   Nearly a year ago, the Division received significant new authority to protect LGBT civil rights with the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which provides nationwide protection to LGBT individuals from physical attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  Significantly, the long overdue law was the first time the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” appeared in federal law to protect civil rights of LGBT individuals.    The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing the Shepard-Byrd law, along with our already existing authorities to forcefully respond to hate-motivated violence, and already has a number of open investigations under the new law.  Unfortunately, hate crimes are  a symptom of the climate of intolerance towards LGBT individuals that has had a particularly devastating impact on the lives of LGBT youth, as evidenced by the six recent suicides by LGBT teens.  Each of these teens was a victim of bullying, underscoring the challenge we face in ensuring that our schools provide a safe and tolerant environment for all students.   The Civil Rights Division has used its existing legal authority to hold a school district accountable for the ongoing harassment of a gay teen who failed to conform to gender stereotypes, and the Justice Department is working with the Department of Education and other agencies on the development of a national anti-bullying strategy. For more information, read Assistant  Attorney General  Perez’s full remarks from the Cleveland LGBT Heritage Celebration.
Updated April 7, 2017