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Justice Department: LGBT student bullying on the rise

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Friday, September 16, 2011
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Bullying of LGBT youth is making up a growing number of discrimination complaints received by the Obama administration.

Michael Key, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said on Tuesday there has been a growing number of reported bullying cases during an oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The bullying of kids who are LGBT is probably the largest growth area in our docket,” Perez said. ”This is about safety — whether it’s kids who are gay, whether it’s kids who are Muslim, whether it’s kids who speak English with an accent, whether it’s kids with disabilities, and we have in Tennessee a case involving bullying of kids with disabilities — this is an emerging growth area, I regret to say.”

Perez made the remarks on bullying in response to questioning from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who introduced legislation known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act that aims to protect LGBT youth from bullying and harassment in school.

President Obama has yet to endorse the legislation. During the hearing, Perez said the administration supports “the goals” of the Student Non-Discrimination Act, but stopped short of offering a full-throated endorsement.

“I very much support the goals behind your efforts in introducing the Student Non-Discrimination Act,” Perez said. “Kids are dying, kids are being brutally assaulted, kids are scared.”

Perez noted that the Obama administration has taken on an “active program engagement” on its own to address bullying. One such step was an anti-bullying summit that Obama and first lady Michelle Obama held at the White House in March.

Additionally, the Education Department has interpreted federal law prohibiting gender discrimination to cover in some instances LGBT students who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibit harassment based on gender.

Following up on the remarks, Franken said he assumes Perez’s mention of the Student Non-Discrimination Act means the administration believes “an explicit ban against discrimination in public schools based on sexual orientation” is necessary.

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