White House Issues Guidance On Harassment In Schools Prohibiting Some Discrimination Against LGBT Students

October 26, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The White House and the Department of Education (DOE) today announced new guidance for dealing with harassment in schools. The guidance, sent by the DOE to school districts around the country, makes clear that schools have a legal duty to protect students from harassment under federal civil rights statutes. Although religion and sexual orientation are not explicitly included in the civil rights statutes that the DOE enforces, today’s guidance clarifies that federal prohibitions on national origin and sex discrimination can also protect religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students from some harassment.

Specifically for LGBT students, the federal ban on sex discrimination protects those students who experience discrimination because they are not viewed as conforming to stereotypes of what it means to be a male or female student. The guidance comes in the wake of several high-profile LGBT bullying cases and suicides.

The American Civil Liberties Union noted that, even with the guidance, a gap still remains between the level of protections afforded to students based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability and those afforded to LGBT students. The Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill pending in both the House and Senate modeled on Title IX’s protections against sex discrimination in education, would guarantee that LGBT students are explicitly protected from harassment and discrimination under federal law. The ACLU renewed its call for Congress to swiftly pass the legislation.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“The Obama administration took the vital step today of alerting all school districts to their legal duty to protect their students, and this guidance is a welcome and important step toward ending discrimination in schools. However, there is still a dangerous gap between the protections recognized in the guidance and the protections that LGBT students need and deserve. Though the guidance goes far under current law, it does not replace having a federal statute that explicitly protects LGBT students. Our government can and should do more to protect LGBT students.

“Recent events have been a tragic reminder that LGBT students face harassment and intolerance every day. Our schools should be a safe harbor, not a place where simply going to class becomes a daily struggle. It’s time for Congress to build on the administration’s work and pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act to ensure that all LGBT students have clear, federal protection from discrimination and harassment.”

The ACLU has advocated on behalf of several LGBT youth who have faced discrimination in their schools, including Constance McMillen whose school cancelled the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend and Ceara Sturgis who was excluded from her yearbook because she wore a tuxedo in her yearbook picture. For more information on the ACLU’s work on LGBT rights, go to: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights

The Department of Education’s guidance is available here: www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/guidance-targeting-harassment-outlines-local-and-federal-responsibility

The ACLU’s letter on the Student Non-Discrimination Act is available here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/aclu-letter-support-student-non-discrimination-act-s-3390

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