Today, the Civil Rights Division released a video addressing bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and those who do not conform to gender stereotypes about male or female behavior or appearance. The video is the Division’s contribution to the national “It Gets Better” Project, in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults and straight allies tell youth that life gets better after high school.
The Civil Rights Division and the entire Justice Department are committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The video features Division employees who share their individual stories and personal messages that a better future awaits youth who may be experiencing bullying or harassment.
Over the past year, the Civil Rights Division has used its authority to combat harassment of LGBT youth and other students in schools. For example, earlier this year the Division moved to intervene in the case of an openly gay teenager from Mohawk, New York, who was the victim of severe and pervasive student-on-student harassment because he failed to conform to gender stereotypes. From 2007 until 2009, the harassment escalated from derogatory name-calling to physical threats and violence. The student’s grades suffered. He had multiple absences because he did not feel safe at school, and he dropped one of his favorite courses to avoid one of his harassers.
The school district knew of the harassment, and the complaint alleged that the district was deliberately indifferent in its failure to take action – neither fully investigating the allegations, nor following its anti-harassment policies and procedures. The failure to address and prevent this kind of bullying and harassment violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of a student’s sex, including his or her failure to conform to stereotypical notions about gender. It also reinforces intolerant and hateful behavior by allowing it to go unpunished. The Department and the plaintiff reached a settlement with the school district that requires the district to take steps to ensure that this kind of harassment doesn’t happen again. The Mohawk case was the Department’s first action concerning gender nonconformity in 10 years.
The enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information is available at the Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section website at www.justice.gov/crt/edo/.
Updated September 15, 2014