Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali released a dear colleague letter to educators yesterday, October 26, upon an increased public awareness of school district policy on bullying and harassment and the heightened level of media coverage revolving around LGBT teen suicides. The letter comes on the heels of repeated calls of action made towards our government officials, in particular the Department of Education.
The letter addresses the need for anti-bullying policies to be comprehensive, going beyond prohibiting bullying on the basis of traits expressly protected by federal civil rights laws enforced by OCR to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. There is also mention of both preventative and proactive measures schools should be taking in order to stop bullying before it starts, as well as acting to quell tension and hostility immediately following an incident.
Title IX prohibits both female and male students from exclusion from participation in, denial of the benefits of, or subjugation of discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. LGBT advocates maintain that the law should be applied in situations where students are perceived as non-conforming to traditional gender roles, resulting in discrimination against them by peers and/or faculty. While we are forced to wait for movement from Congress on bills like the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the recognition and application of Title IX as a combatant to gender-based stereo-typing is extremely positive, as it gives perceived or actual LGBT students and their families reassurance that they are in the right and that they have options when facing discrimination.
Yesterday, in a conference call with LGBT journalists, Ali talked specifically about the letter’s pertinence to LGBT students, saying, "A lot of bullying experienced by LGBT students is accompanied by or in the form of sexual harassment or gender-based harassment because students are perceived as not conforming to traditional gender roles. We want to be sure that that kind of harassment and discrimination can very much be a violation of Title IX and federal civil rights laws."
We commend the US Department of Education and Russlynn Ali specifically for clarifying how Title IX may be applied help to alleviate schools of the bullying, harassment and discrimination that often takes a devastating toll on victims. We encourage our readers to take a look at the full letter here and also the Office of Civil Rights’ follow-up information with a background, summary, and facts on utilizing Title IX in fighting gender-based discrimination. We also urge you to file a claim with OCR should you know of a school community member who is being bullied, harassed or discriminated. Please visit our Claim Your Rights Resource Center to learn how to file a claim today!
This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.