Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
While this decision is a setback here in North Carolina, there was an upside. The court decision also affirmed gay joint custody, which was decided by the Court of Appeals a couple of years ago.
If you're a co-parent, go here for a roadmap on how to take affirmative action - by your behavior, by conveying your intentions clearly to each other, by your agreements with each other, and by what you put in writing - to codify your desire to serve as co-parents.
Obviously you should consult a lawyer for creating legal agreements. The important thing, however, is to take steps now to show your intention to raise your kid(s) together.
In the meantime, however, share the joy (and hassle) of other LGBT families raising their children:
- Celebrating All Families, celebratingallfamilies.
- Dads in the Burbs, dadsintheburbs.blogspot.com/
- Jesus has Two Daddies, jesushas2daddies.blogspot.com/
- Julie Shapiro (a lawyer’s blog on L/G adoption), julieshapiro.wordpress.com/
- Me and She, me-n-she.blogspot.com/
- Mother Issues, motherissues.wordpress.com/
- My Two Dads, patrickandcarl.blogspot.com/
- Those Two Daddies, thosetwodaddies.blogspot.com/
- Two Dads, One Girl, twodadsonegirl.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
CALL TO ACTION:
Tell The Board of the Smithsonian That Anti-LGBT Bias Has No Place in America's Museum
We at GLAAD are adding our voices to the chorus of others who have strongly and rightfully criticized the Smithsonian's decision to hide a piece of LGBT-themed artwork from the public.
Most of us know the story by now. Following a brief series of high profile, far-right attacks-- and despite having not received a single complaint from the public-- the Smithsonian Museum pulled the piece "A Fire in My Belly" from an exhibition titled Hide/Seek at the National Portrait Gallery a few weeks ago.
The work in question is a 10-second video that shows ants crawling on a cross. The work is meant to illustrate the suffering of an AIDS victim in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The artist of the piece is David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, at the age of 37.
This piece was considered important and valuable to the Hide/Seek collection when it was curated and when it opened in October. What changed on November 30, when the piece was taken out of the display? Whose voices did the board of the Smithsonian place above its own professional judgment?
As it happens, they were listening to people like Bill Donohue, Glenn Beck and John Boehner, who were once again using gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for social division – and of course, fundraising. These are the same people who have been fighting tooth and nail against employment protections for LGBT people. These are the same people who didn't want the LGBT community added to hate crimes protections. These are the same people who are trying to keep the men and women of our military in the closet - and now they're throwing works of art in there with them.
Anti-gay activists and politicians are now setting their sights on the entire LGBT exhibit and the Smithsonian itself. Opponents of the Hide/Seek exhibit have since also shared their disgust at images in the exhibit that feature men kissing.
Throughout the course of history, art has served to provoke thought and challenge opinion. This work is a powerful statement about a critical period in the history of America's LGBT community, which should not be hidden from public view because of the grandstanding of a few disingenuous critics and politicians.
Several weeks ago, GLAAD placed an op-ed in the Washington Post by a faculty member of Yale's Divinity School who said, "The truly blasphemous abomination is the church's initial reluctance, even refusal to care for, speak out about, and show dignity to literal bodies of real people with HIV/AIDS." Patrick Evans wrote, "The religious and political leaders who used World AIDS Day in this holy season of Advent to cultivate political power and raise money by focusing on 11 seconds of an artistic work by a man who died of AIDS in 1992 would do well to remember the clear and unequivocal words of the savior whose wounds they are so quick to save from crawling insects."
But we all need to do more and raise our voices even louder. Tell the Smithsonian that anti-LGBT bias and political opportunism have no business in our treasured institutions.
Thank you for your time -- together, we can make a real difference.
Monday, December 13, 2010
(Not exactly a newsflash, but it does provide solid, peer-reviewed data to support a bit of common-sense that many people still don't get. It's still not an uncommon event for kids to be completely rejected by homophobic parents. It's a cliche, but it's also an ongoing tragedy.)
The study shows that specific parental and caregiver behaviors, e.g., advocating for children when they are mistreated for being gay or supporting their gender expression, protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts in early adulthood. In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood.
- Family accepting behaviors towards LGBT youth during adolescence protect against suicide, depression, and substance abuse.
- LGBT young adults who reported high levels of family acceptance during adolescence had significantly higher levels of self-esteem, social support, and general health, compared to peers with low levels of family acceptance.
- LGBT young adults who reported low levels of family acceptance during adolescence were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to report suicide attempts, compared to those with high levels of family acceptance.
- High religious involvement in families was strongly associated with low acceptance of LGBT children.
They use a behavioral approach to help ethnically and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children to reduce risk for suicide, depression, substance abuse, and HIV, to promote well-being, and to prevent homelessness and placement in custodial care. This work is being conducted in English, Spanish, and Chinese with families from all ethnic backgrounds, including immigrant and very low income families, and those whose children are out-of-home in foster care and juvenile justice facilities.
To download a copy of their booklet, just go here and enter your e-mail address and zip code (which they'll use to track where their materials are used and ask for any feedback on the booklet):
"Supportive Families, Healthy Children."
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
It's true! And this information comes from a couple of highly credible sources: The data is from a Yale University study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics. from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Teens Singled Out for Punishment
Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents are about 40 percent more likely than other teens to be punished by school authorities, police and the courts, according to a study by Yale University researchers. Published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the study is the first to document excessive punishment of LGB youth nationwide.
“We found that virtually all types of punishment—including school expulsions, arrests, juvenile convictions, adult convictions and especially police stops—were more frequently meted out to LGB youth,” said lead author Kathryn Himmelstein, who initiated the study while she was a Yale undergraduate. The research was supervised by Hannah Brueckner, professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course at Yale.
The study was based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and included about 15,000 middle and high school students who were followed for seven years into early adulthood. The study collected details on participants’ sexuality, including feelings of sexual attraction, sexual relationships and self-labeling as LGB. Add Health also surveyed participants about how frequently they engaged in a variety of misbehaviors, ranging in severity from lying to parents, to using a weapon. Add Health included detailed questions about school expulsions and contacts with the criminal justice system.
Himmelstein, who now teaches math at a public high school in New York City, said that adolescents who identified themselves as LGB were about 50 percent more likely to be stopped by police than other teenagers. Teens who reported feelings of attraction to members of the same sex, regardless of their self-identification, were more likely than other teens to be expelled from school or convicted of crimes as adults.
“Girls who labeled themselves as lesbian or bisexual were especially at risk for unequal treatment,” said Himmelstein. “They reported experiencing twice as many police stops, arrests and convictions as other girls who had engaged in similar behavior. Although we did not explore the experiences of transgender youth, anecdotal reports suggest that they are similarly at risk for excessive punishment.”
The study showed that these disparities in punishments are not explained by differences in the rates of misbehavior. In fact, the study showed that adolescents who identified themselves as LGB actually engaged in less violence than their peers.
“The painful, even lethal bullying that LGB youth suffer at the hands of their peers has been highlighted by recent tragic events,” Himmelstein notes. “Our numbers suggest that school officials, police and judges, who should be protecting LGB youth, are instead singling them out for punishment based on their sexual orientation. LGB teens can’t thrive if adults single them out for punishment because of their sexual orientation.”
Brueckner added, “The study provides the first and only national estimates for over-representation of LGB youth in the criminal justice system. We simply did not have any good numbers on this before. We need more research on the processes that lead to this to help us identify ways to make our institutions more equitable with respect to policing all youth, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
Citation: Pediatrics Vol. 127, 1 (January 1, 2011)
— By Karen N. Peart
PRESS CONTACT: Karen N. Peart 203-432-1326
Monday, December 6, 2010
“From everything we hear from inside the administration, they wanted this to be part of their efforts at diversity,” said Denis Dison, spokesman for the Presidential Appointments Project of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute.
In a sign of how times have changed, few of the appointees – about two dozen required Senate confirmation – have stirred much controversy. It’s a far cry from the 1993 furor surrounding Clinton’s nomination of then-San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg as assistant secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
Achtenberg was the first openly gay official to serve at such a senior level, and she won confirmation despite contentious hearings and opposition from NC's former Sen. Jesse Helms, who denounced her as a “militant extremist.”
Gay activists, among Obama’s strongest supporters, had hoped he would be the first to appoint an openly gay Cabinet secretary. While that hasn’t happened – yet – Obama did appoint the highest-ranking gay official ever when he named John Berry as director of the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the nation’s 1.9 million federal workers.
Other prominent names include Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank. Obama also named Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender appointee, as a senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department. And David Huebner, ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, is the third openly gay ambassador in U.S. history.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye confirmed the record number, saying Obama has hired more gay officials than the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations combined. He said Obama “is proud that his appointments reflect the diversity of the American public.”
“He is committed to appointing highly qualified individuals for each post,” Inouye said. “We have made a record number of openly LGBT appointments and we are confident that this number will only continue to grow.”
Dison’s group lists 124 of the appointees on its website. He said the remainder are not listed because they are lower-level officials not formally announced by the White House.
“We learn about a lot of these through informal networks and then work to confirm that they are indeed appointed and that they are openly LGBT,” Dison said.
One Obama nominee who met some opposition was Chai Feldblum, a Georgetown University law professor nominated to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Concerned Women for America accused Feldblum of playing “a major role in pushing the homosexual and transsexual agenda on Americans.” Other conservative groups blasted her role in drafting the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a bill that would ban employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Obama made Feldblum a recess appointment in March after an anonymous hold in the Senate held up her confirmation for months.
Another target for conservatives was Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, who was named to oversee the Education Department’s Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools. More than 50 House Republicans asked Obama to remove Jennings from the post after reports surfaced about advice he gave more than 20 years earlier after learning a gay student had sex with an older man.
Jennings conceded that he should have consulted medical or legal authorities instead of telling the 15-year-old boy that he hoped he had used a condom. The Obama administration defended Jennings and declined to remove him.
It was in early 2008 that the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute focused its Presidential Appointments Project on steering thousands of resumes of qualified gay professionals to White House jobs. Dison said that push has helped increase the numbers, though it certainly helped to have a more receptive White House.The more LGBT folks that work within government at lower levels, the more visibility there is for the entire movement, and the more change will ultimately occur at higher levels.
In the end, lots of small advancements add up to huge ones.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Great Hate: Anti-LGBT Violence Tops Bias Crimes. Also, Big Homophobes Classified As Official Hate Groups
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that gays are far more likely to be victims of violent hate crime than any other minority group. Its conclusion are based on 14 years of FBI hate crime data covering 1995-2008.
The center said that gays or those perceived to be gay are:
- more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks
- more than four times as likely as Muslims
- 14 times more likely as Latinos.
In other words, they'll have much more comprehensive and accurate data on anti-gay hate crimes going forward. Still, even before being mandated to collect this data, they found anti-gay crimes to be 18% of all hate crimes (and again, this was before they were actively collecting this data). Of anti-LGBT bias crimes, the vast majority were motivated by bias specifically against gay males.
In other related news, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a long-respected authority on hate groups in America, has added some big homophobic names to their official list of hate groups.
These are noted for "their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling." Just being anti-gay isn't enough — hate groups have to be known to actively and maliciously lie and distort the truth.
Take a look at some of these newly-classified folks. These big names have long tried to argue that they're not about hate, but with their new hate status, they can no longer even pretend to be about anything more than bigotry. They include:
- American Family Association
- Concerned Women for America
- Family Research Council
- Family Research Institute
- Liberty Counsel (affiliate of Liberty University Law School)
- National Organization for Marriage
- Traditional Values Coalition
It's good to know where information comes from, as well as who can be trusted, and in this case, 18 groups who simply cannot. Lies can be repeated, but the truth does ultimately out. We gays now have pride, and those homophobes now have, officially, shame.
Monday, November 29, 2010
As is so often the case, certain groups of people will have a more difficult time with these procedures. Again, as is so often the case, these are folks who have additional struggles to begin with. With regard to the new TSA procedures, I'm specifically referring to trans folks.
Trans folks have the double-disadvantage in that they may have prosthetics (padded, underwire bras and breast forms, genital prosthetics), which may cause concern to airport screeners, and that they may be red-flagged if the screener notes a discrepancy with the gender they present, either subjectively or due to a difference between the gender markers on their ID.
The point is, the marginalized community, that already has it harder, gets to have it harder still. And of course, the TSA does not require nor necessarily provide training for its officers regarding sensitivity to the LGBT community.
Fortunately, the National Center For Transgender Equality (NCTE) has come out with a resource for trans folks and "What Travelers Need to Know," as well as a useful PDF on "Whole Body Imaging."
There's a lot of just good general information for all folks, like:
- First, it is important that you KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Even if TSA personnel are not always familiar with travelers' rights, such as the right to decline a full-body scan, you should know them. You may need to politely inform the officer of your rights and choices.
- Second, calmly and clearly expressing your choices is very important. This makes it easier for the TSA agents to understand what your needs are and may help you get through the checkpoint more quickly.
- You have the right to have manual search procedures performed by an officer who is of the same gender as the gender you are currently presenting yourself as. This does not depend on the gender listed on your ID, or on any other factor. If TSA officials are unsure who should pat you down, ask to speak to a supervisor and calmly insist on the appropriate officer.
- You should not be subjected to additional screening or inquiry because of any discrepancy between a gender marker on an ID and your appearance. As long as your ID has a recognizable picture of you on it, with your legal name and birth date, it should not cause any problem.
Until we have full equality and inclusion, we simply deal with what we've got with as much grace and equanimity as possible. Travel safely!
Monday, November 22, 2010
"Our mission at Faith in America is to confront religion-based bigotry that lies at that heart of discrimination toward LGBT people. Full equality will not be achieved until the root of the issue is addressed. This report provides important information on how to start the conversation, persuade the movable middle and win the hearts and minds of those that will help bring an end to religion-based bigotry in all its forms."
This report highlights and refutes common assertions used by people of faith to justify bigotry and discrimination against LGBT folks. For example:
"Charge: Homosexuality is a sin … it says so in the Bible. Response: First, that is your interpretation of the Bible, and you should be aware that many others don’t interpret it that way. Second, we should all remember that millions of people have been harmed over the years because the majority’s religious teachings have determined minority groups’ civil rights. Religious teachings were used to support the horrors of slavery, deny women the right to vote, deny loving interracial couples the right to be married, deny black people their full and equal place in our society and deny minority religious groups equal rights. We have learned from these horrible mistakes that it is wrong to use religious teachings to dehumanize and marginalize any minority group. It is no less wrong today to use religious teachings to deny gay people full and equal civil rights."
The report also provides strategies and techniques for addressing this type of prejudice, e.g., "Talking about religion-based bigotry is more effective than using the term 'homophobia.' Using the term 'homophobia' is generally not effective with people of faith. 'Homophobia' is defined as an irrational or unreasonable fear of homosexuality. For many people of faith, especially those who hold to a literal interpretation of Scripture, there is nothing wrong or irrational about fearing sin."
It also provides facts solid facts to covey the importance and seriousness of their message:
- Gay kids who experience family rejection are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide and 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression.
- 1,000+ rights and responsibilities are currently the exclusive right of heterosexual couples.
- If a person believes sexual orientation is a choice, they are 70% more likely to be against LGBT equal rights. If a person believes sexual orientation is part
of how you are created, they are 70% more likely to be in favor of LGBT equal rights.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
TDOR was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the Remembering Our Dead web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-trans murder cases — has yet to be solved.
Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as trans (that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant), each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgendered people.
The purpose of the day is to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people. Transgender Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of transgender people who might otherwise be forgotten. TDOR gives transgender people and their allies a chance to step forward and stand in vigil, showing love, respect, and solidarity, and memorializing those who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.
Transgender Day of Remembrance can be used to educate students, teachers, and administrators about transgender issues, so we can try to prevent anti-transgender hatred and violence from continuing.
Ways you can observe TDOR include:
• Discussion forums with activists, politicians, and/or school officials
• Performance art
• Poetry or spoken word readings
• Visual representation of the number of deaths with:
- Cardboard tombstones of Remembered People
- Paper cutouts of Remembered People
- Chalk body outlines of Remembered People
• Teach-Ins and Speakers Bureaus
• Art/photo displays
• Trans movie screenings (such as “Boys Don’t Cry”)
• Trans 101 trainings
As with any awareness-raising day, it's not an end unto itself. TDOR is a tool towards the ultimate goal of the elimination of bigotry and prejudice against transfolks. It's important to use this day as a starting point for discussion and education. The work of TDOR can be continued by:
• Working to add “gender identity and gender expression” to laws and school antibullying policies
• Having a Trans 101 training for workers and educators
• Working to have some restrooms designated as gender neutral
• Collaborating with others on trans issues and teaching them how to be trans allies
Monday, November 8, 2010
November is National Adoption Month, celebrated throughout the United States in an effort to finalize adoptions from foster care, and to celebrate all adoptive families. (National Adoption Day falls on November 20 this year, the Saturday before Thanksgiving).
This year's National Adoption Month initiative targets adoption professionals by focusing on ways to recruit and retain parents for the 115,000 children and youth in foster care waiting for adoptive families. The National Adoption Month poster (PDF - 3569 KB) notes strategies adoption professionals can implement any day, week, or month to benefit children waiting for families. The Spanish National Adoption Month poster (PDF - 3599 KB) also provides suggestions for working with Spanish-speaking families throughout the year.
Now is a great time for LGBT folks to adopt, and the foster care system is a great place to look for kids who need homes and parents.
Thousands of children in North Carolina enter the foster care system each year, and range in age from infants to 18 years old. All foster children have unique backgrounds, experiences, personalities, strengths, and needs.
The NC foster care system is open to gay parents. (OK, well, technically, they're neither open nor not open.) Your actual experience will depend on any foster care agency you go through and/or the officials in any county DSS (Department of Social Services) that you deal with. We found everyone we interacted with to be extremely positive and supportive of us as a gay male couple looking to adopt - all they cared about was being sure that the kids in need found a good, loving home that could support and care for them.
During November, there are plenty of things you can do to observe National Adoption Month, either as a parent, prospective parent, or someone who has no plans to have children but wants to support adoptive families. Some ideas for this month include:
☼ Write down your family story and add it to a scrapbook.
☼ Contact your local paper about National Adoption Month, and ask them to publish a positive story about adoption.
☼ Contact a children's organization or foster care agency and ask how you can help.
☼ Create your family tree. Complete one about your child's birth family (if information is known) as well as your adoptive family.
☼ If you have one, ask your place of worship to offer a special prayer for children in foster care waiting for adoption.
☼ Watch a movie with an adoption theme.
☼ Donate books about adoption to your local or school library.
There are already thousands of children out there who need homes, and foster care and adoption are great ways to form your family.
(And if you're thinking about having kids or are already a parent, the Family Equality Council is a great resource.)
Adoption is a great way to make a positive impact in a kid's life, and it's also an investment in the future for yourself, LGBT folks, the country, and society as a whole.
It's easy to think that you won't be a good parent, but I can guarantee you that having you as a parent will be hundreds of times better than having no parent at all.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The library association announced the "Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award" as a new addition to the ALA's Youth Media Awards, watched closely by educators and librarians as they decide which books to add to their collections.
The Stonewall prize honors "English-language works for children and teens of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience." Stonewall awards for adult books were started nearly 40 years ago, but the children`s category only now.
Books with gay and lesbian themes often place high on the association's yearly report of works most criticized and threatened with removal by parents and educators.
"And Tango Makes Three," Justin Richardson's and Peter Parnell's acclaimed picture story about two male penguins who become parents, topped the list from 2007 to 2009.
"Ours is a very inclusive profession and we represent a wide variety of viewpoints," says association president Roberta Stevens, who noted that the decision to add the Stonewall prize was made well before the recent wave of suicides by teens believed to be victims of anti-gay bullying. "Millions of children in this country are being raised by gay or lesbian parents. There are young people who are gay and sometimes they feel very alone. This is a real opportunity for youths who may be feeling alone to read about other like themselves."
The Youth Media awards, announced in January, already include a variety of categories, such as African-American literature, lifetime achievement and best children`s audio book.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Well, good news! It happened this past Friday. It, of course, refers to the inclusion of LGBT folks in suggested anti-bais language that encourages proper conduct for lawyers. This is an update to the preamble to its Rules of Professional Conduct that urges lawyers not to discriminate in their practices "on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity." (Those last two are the significant ones.)
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Here's a copy of the Dear Colleague Letter:
October 26, 2010
In recent years, many state departments of education and local school districts have taken steps to reduce bullying in schools. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) fully supports these efforts. Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential. The movement to adopt anti-bullying policies reflects schools’ appreciation of their important responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. I am writing to remind you, however, that some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal antidiscrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). As discussed in more detail below, by limiting its response to a specific application of its anti-bullying disciplinary policy, a school may fail to properly consider whether the student misconduct also results in discriminatory harassment.
The statutes that OCR enforces include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 19641 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 19722 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 19733 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 19904 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.5 School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.6 School personnel who understand their legal obligations to address harassment under these laws are in the best position to prevent it from occurring and to respond appropriately when it does. Although this letter focuses on the elementary and secondary school context, the legal principles also apply to postsecondary institutions covered by the laws and regulations enforced by OCR.
Some school anti-bullying policies already may list classes or traits on which bases bullying or harassment is specifically prohibited. Indeed, many schools have adopted anti-bullying policies that go beyond prohibiting bullying on the basis of traits expressly protected by the federal civil
1 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
2 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.
3 29 U.S.C. § 794.
4 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.
5 OCR also enforces the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, 42 U.S.C. § 6101 et seq., and the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C. § 7905. This letter does not specifically address those statutes.
6 The Department’s regulations implementing these statutes are in 34 C.F.R. parts 100, 104, and 106. Under these federal civil rights laws and regulations, students are protected from harassment by school employees, other students, and third parties. This guidance focuses on peer harassment, and articulates the legal standards that apply in administrative enforcement and in court cases where plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief.
rights laws enforced by OCR—race, color, national origin, sex, and disability—to include such bases as sexual orientation and religion. While this letter concerns your legal obligations under the laws enforced by OCR, other federal, state, and local laws impose additional obligations on schools.7 And, of course, even when bullying or harassment is not a civil rights violation, schools should still seek to prevent it in order to protect students from the physical and emotional harms that it may cause.
Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school. When such harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, it violates the civil rights laws that OCR enforces.8
A school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known.9 In some situations, harassment may be in plain sight, widespread, or well-known to students and staff, such as harassment occurring in hallways, during academic or physical education classes, during extracurricular activities, at recess, on a school bus, or through graffiti in public areas. In these cases, the obvious signs of the harassment are sufficient to put the school on notice. In other situations, the school may become aware of misconduct, triggering an investigation that could lead to the discovery of additional incidents that, taken together, may constitute a hostile environment. In all cases, schools should have well-publicized policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving complaints that will alert the school to incidents of harassment.10
When responding to harassment, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. The specific steps in a school’s investigation will vary depending upon the nature of the allegations, the source of the complaint, the age of the student or students involved, the size and administrative structure of the school, and other factors. In all cases, however, the inquiry should be prompt, thorough, and impartial.
If an investigation reveals that discriminatory harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile
7 For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has jurisdiction over Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c (Title IV), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin by public elementary and secondary schools and public institutions of higher learning. State laws also provide additional civil rights protections, so districts should review these statutes to determine what protections they afford (e.g., some state laws specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation).
8 Some conduct alleged to be harassment may implicate the First Amendment rights to free speech or expression. For more information on the First Amendment’s application to harassment, see the discussions in OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter: First Amendment (July 28, 2003), available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/firstamend.html, and OCR’s Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties (Jan. 19, 2001) (Sexual Harassment Guidance), available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html.
9 A school has notice of harassment if a responsible employee knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the harassment. For a discussion of what a “responsible employee” is, see OCR’s Sexual Harassment Guidance.
10 Districts must adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex and disability discrimination complaints, and must notify students, parents, employees, applicants, and other interested parties that the district does not discriminate on the basis of sex or disability. See 28 C.F.R. § 35.106; 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(b); 34 C.F.R. § 104.7(b); 34 C.F.R. § 104.8; 34 C.F.R. § 106.8(b); 34 C.F.R. § 106.9.
environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring. These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti-bullying policy, and regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.
Appropriate steps to end harassment may include separating the accused harasser and the target, providing counseling for the target and/or harasser, or taking disciplinary action against the harasser. These steps should not penalize the student who was harassed. For example, any separation of the target from an alleged harasser should be designed to minimize the burden on the target’s educational program (e.g., not requiring the target to change his or her class schedule).
In addition, depending on the extent of the harassment, the school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond. A school also may be required to provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment, particularly if the school initially delays in responding or responds inappropriately or inadequately to information about harassment. An effective response also may need to include the issuance of new policies against harassment and new procedures by which students, parents, and employees may report allegations of harassment (or wide dissemination of existing policies and procedures), as well as wide distribution of the contact information for the district’s Title IX and Section 504/Title II coordinators.11
Finally, a school should take steps to stop further harassment and prevent any retaliation against the person who made the complaint (or was the subject of the harassment) or against those who provided information as witnesses. At a minimum, the school’s responsibilities include making sure that the harassed students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems, conducting follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or any instances of retaliation, and responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems.
When responding to incidents of misconduct, schools should keep in mind the following:
- The label used to describe an incident (e.g., bullying, hazing, teasing) does not determine how a school is obligated to respond. Rather, the nature of the conduct itself must be assessed for civil rights implications. So, for example, if the abusive behavior is on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, and creates a hostile environment, a school is obligated to respond in accordance with the applicable federal civil rights statutes and regulations enforced by OCR.
- When the behavior implicates the civil rights laws, school administrators should look beyond simply disciplining the perpetrators. While disciplining the perpetrators is likely a necessary step, it often is insufficient. A school’s responsibility is to eliminate the
11 Districts must designate persons responsible for coordinating compliance with Title IX, Section 504, and Title II, including the investigation of any complaints of sexual, gender-based, or disability harassment. See 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(a); 34 C.F.R. § 104.7(a); 34 C.F.R. § 106.8(a).
- hostile environment created by the harassment, address its effects, and take steps to ensure that harassment does not recur. Put differently, the unique effects of discriminatory harassment may demand a different response than would other types of bullying.
Below, I provide hypothetical examples of how a school’s failure to recognize student misconduct as discriminatory harassment violates students’ civil rights.12 In each of the examples, the school was on notice of the harassment because either the school or a responsible employee knew or should have known of misconduct that constituted harassment. The examples describe how the school should have responded in each circumstance.
Title VI: Race, Color, or National Origin Harassment
- Some students anonymously inserted offensive notes into African-American students’ lockers and notebooks, used racial slurs, and threatened African-American students who tried to sit near them in the cafeteria. Some African-American students told school officials that they did not feel safe at school. The school investigated and responded to individual instances of misconduct by assigning detention to the few student perpetrators it could identify. However, racial tensions in the school continued to escalate to the point that several fights broke out between the school’s racial groups.
- In this example, school officials failed to acknowledge the pattern of harassment as indicative of a racially hostile environment in violation of Title VI. Misconduct need not be directed at a particular student to constitute discriminatory harassment and foster a racially hostile environment. Here, the harassing conduct included overtly racist behavior (e.g., racial slurs) and also targeted students on the basis of their race (e.g., notes directed at African-American students). The nature of the harassment, the number of incidents, and the students’ safety concerns demonstrate that there was a racially hostile environment that interfered with the students’ ability to participate in the school’s education programs and activities.
- Had the school recognized that a racially hostile environment had been created, it would have realized that it needed to do more than just discipline the few individuals whom it could identify as having been involved. By failing to acknowledge the racially hostile environment, the school failed to meet its obligation to implement a more systemic response to address the unique effect that the misconduct had on the school climate. A more effective response would have included, in addition to punishing the perpetrators, such steps as reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination (including racial harassment), publicizing the means to report allegations of racial harassment, training faculty on constructive responses to racial conflict, hosting class discussions about racial harassment and sensitivity to students of other races, and conducting outreach to involve parents and students in an effort to identify problems and improve the school climate. Finally, had school officials responded appropriately
12 Each of these hypothetical examples contains elements taken from actual cases.
- and aggressively to the racial harassment when they first became aware of it, the school might have prevented the escalation of violence that occurred.13
- Over the course of a school year, school employees at a junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom. When custodians discovered the graffiti and reported it to school administrators, the administrators ordered the graffiti removed but took no further action. At the same school, a teacher caught two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, “You Jews have all of the money, give us some.” When school administrators investigated the incident, they determined that the seventh-graders were not actually Jewish. The school suspended the perpetrators for a week because of the serious nature of their misconduct. After that incident, younger Jewish students started avoiding the school library and computer lab because they were located in the corridor housing the lockers of the ninth-graders. At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student “Drew the dirty Jew.” The responsible eighth-graders were reprimanded for teasing the Jewish student.
- The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion,14 groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith. These principles apply not just to Jewish students, but also to students from any discrete religious group that shares, or is perceived to share, ancestry or ethnic characteristics (e.g., Muslims or Sikhs). Thus, harassment against students who are members of any religious group triggers a school’s Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than solely on its members’ religious practices. A school also has responsibilities under Title VI when its students are harassed based on their actual or perceived citizenship or residency in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity.15
- In this example, school administrators should have recognized that the harassment was based on the students’ actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic identity as Jews (rather than on the students’ religious practices). The school was not relieved of its responsibilities under Title VI because the targets of one of the incidents were not actually Jewish. The harassment was still based on the perceived ancestry or ethnic characteristics of the targeted students. Furthermore, the harassment negatively affected the ability and willingness of Jewish students to participate fully in the school’s
13 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of harassment on the basis of race, color, or national origin is included in Racial Incidents and Harassment Against Students at Educational Institutions: Investigative Guidance, 59 Fed. Reg. 11,448 (Mar. 10, 1994), available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/race394.html.
14 As noted in footnote seven, DOJ has the authority to remedy discrimination based solely on religion under Title IV.
15 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating complaints of discrimination against members of religious groups is included in OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter: Title VI and Title IX Religious Discrimination in Schools and Colleges (Sept. 13, 2004), available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/religious-rights2004.html.
- education programs and activities (e.g., by causing some Jewish students to avoid the library and computer lab). Therefore, although the discipline that the school imposed on the perpetrators was an important part of the school’s response, discipline alone was likely insufficient to remedy a hostile environment. Similarly, removing the graffiti, while a necessary and important step, did not fully satisfy the school’s responsibilities. As discussed above, misconduct that is not directed at a particular student, like the graffiti in the bathroom, can still constitute discriminatory harassment and foster a hostile environment. Finally, the fact that school officials considered one of the incidents “teasing” is irrelevant for determining whether it contributed to a hostile environment.
- Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. Providing teachers with training to recognize and address anti-Semitic incidents also would have increased the effectiveness of the school’s response. The school could also have created an age-appropriate program to educate its students about the history and dangers of anti-Semitism, and could have conducted outreach to involve parents and community groups in preventing future anti-Semitic harassment.
Title IX: Sexual Harassment
- Shortly after enrolling at a new high school, a female student had a brief romance with another student. After the couple broke up, other male and female students began routinely calling the new student sexually charged names, spreading rumors about her sexual behavior, and sending her threatening text messages and e-mails. One of the student’s teachers and an athletic coach witnessed the name calling and heard the rumors, but identified it as “hazing” that new students often experience. They also noticed the new student’s anxiety and declining class participation. The school attempted to resolve the situation by requiring the student to work the problem out directly with her harassers.
- Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Thus, sexual harassment prohibited by Title IX can include conduct such as touching of a sexual nature; making sexual comments, jokes, or gestures; writing graffiti or displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; or circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.
- In this example, the school employees failed to recognize that the “hazing” constituted sexual harassment. The school did not comply with its Title IX obligations when it failed to investigate or remedy the sexual harassment. The conduct was clearly unwelcome, sexual (e.g., sexual rumors and name calling), and sufficiently serious that it limited the student’s ability to participate in and benefit from the school’s education program (e.g., anxiety and declining class participation).
- The school should have trained its employees on the type of misconduct that constitutes sexual harassment. The school also should have made clear to its employees that they could not require the student to confront her harassers. Schools may use informal mechanisms for addressing harassment, but only if the parties agree to do so on a voluntary basis. Had the school addressed the harassment consistent with Title IX, the school would have, for example, conducted a thorough investigation and taken interim measures to separate the student from the accused harassers. An effective response also might have included training students and employees on the school’s policies related to harassment, instituting new procedures by which employees should report allegations of harassment, and more widely distributing the contact information for the district’s Title IX coordinator. The school also might have offered the targeted student tutoring, other academic assistance, or counseling as necessary to remedy the effects of the harassment.16
Title IX: Gender-Based Harassment
- Over the course of a school year, a gay high school student was called names (including anti-gay slurs and sexual comments) both to his face and on social networking sites, physically assaulted, threatened, and ridiculed because he did not conform to stereotypical notions of how teenage boys are expected to act and appear (e.g., effeminate mannerisms, nontraditional choice of extracurricular activities, apparel, and personal grooming choices). As a result, the student dropped out of the drama club to avoid further harassment. Based on the student’s self-identification as gay and the homophobic nature of some of the harassment, the school did not recognize that the misconduct included discrimination covered by Title IX. The school responded to complaints from the student by reprimanding the perpetrators consistent with its anti-bullying policy. The reprimands of the identified perpetrators stopped the harassment by those individuals. It did not, however, stop others from undertaking similar harassment of the student.
- As noted in the example, the school failed to recognize the pattern of misconduct as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX. Title IX prohibits harassment of both male and female students regardless of the sex of the harasser—i.e., even if the harasser and target are members of the same sex. It also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping. Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their
16 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of sexual harassment is included in OCR’s Sexual Harassment Guidance, available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html.
- sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.
- Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also, as this example illustrates, be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. In this example, the harassing conduct was based in part on the student’s failure to act as some of his peers believed a boy should act. The harassment created a hostile environment that limited the student’s ability to participate in the school’s education program (e.g., access to the drama club). Finally, even though the student did not identify the harassment as sex discrimination, the school should have recognized that the student had been subjected to gender-based harassment covered by Title IX.
- In this example, the school had an obligation to take immediate and effective action to eliminate the hostile environment. By responding to individual incidents of misconduct on an ad hoc basis only, the school failed to confront and prevent a hostile environment from continuing. Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment. For example, this approach would have included a more comprehensive response to the situation that involved notice to the student’s teachers so that they could ensure the student was not subjected to any further harassment, more aggressive monitoring by staff of the places where harassment occurred, increased training on the scope of the school’s harassment and discrimination policies, notice to the target and harassers of available counseling services and resources, and educating the entire school community on civil rights and expectations of tolerance, specifically as they apply to gender stereotypes. The school also should have taken steps to clearly communicate the message that the school does not tolerate harassment and will be responsive to any information about such conduct.17
Section 504 and Title II: Disability Harassment
- Several classmates repeatedly called a student with a learning disability “stupid,” “idiot,” and “retard” while in school and on the school bus. On one occasion, these students tackled him, hit him with a school binder, and threw his personal items into the garbage. The student complained to his teachers and guidance counselor that he was continually being taunted and teased. School officials offered him counseling services and a
17 Guidance on gender-based harassment is also included in OCR’s Sexual Harassment Guidance, available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html.
- psychiatric evaluation, but did not discipline the offending students. As a result, the harassment continued. The student, who had been performing well academically, became angry, frustrated, and depressed, and often refused to go to school to avoid the harassment.
- In this example, the school failed to recognize the misconduct as disability harassment under Section 504 and Title II. The harassing conduct included behavior based on the student’s disability, and limited the student’s ability to benefit fully from the school’s education program (e.g., absenteeism). In failing to investigate and remedy the misconduct, the school did not comply with its obligations under Section 504 and Title II.
- Counseling may be a helpful component of a remedy for harassment. In this example, however, since the school failed to recognize the behavior as disability harassment, the school did not adopt a comprehensive approach to eliminating the hostile environment. Such steps should have at least included disciplinary action against the harassers, consultation with the district’s Section 504/Title II coordinator to ensure a comprehensive and effective response, special training for staff on recognizing and effectively responding to harassment of students with disabilities, and monitoring to ensure that the harassment did not resume. 18
I encourage you to reevaluate the policies and practices your school uses to address bullying19 and harassment to ensure that they comply with the mandates of the federal civil rights laws. For your convenience, the following is a list of online resources that further discuss the obligations of districts to respond to harassment prohibited under the federal antidiscrimination laws enforced by OCR:
- Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic (Revised 2008):
- Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Harassment Issues (2006):
- Dear Colleague Letter: Religious Discrimination (2004):
- Dear Colleague Letter: First Amendment (2003):
18 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of disability harassment is included in OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter: Prohibited Disability Harassment (July 25, 2000), available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html.
19 For resources on preventing and addressing bullying, please visit http://www.bullyinginfo.org, a Web site established by a federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. For information on the Department’s bullying prevention resources, please visit the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools’ Web site at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SDFS. For information on regional Equity Assistance Centers that assist schools in developing and implementing policies and practices to address issues regarding race, sex, or national origin discrimination, please visit http://www.ed.gov/programs/equitycenters.
- Sexual Harassment Guidance (Revised 2001): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html
- Dear Colleague Letter: Prohibited Disability Harassment (2000): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html
- Racial Incidents and Harassment Against Students (1994): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/race394.html
Please also note that OCR has added new data items to be collected through its Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which surveys school districts in a variety of areas related to civil rights in education. The CRDC now requires districts to collect and report information on allegations of harassment, policies regarding harassment, and discipline imposed for harassment. In 2009-10, the CRDC covered nearly 7,000 school districts, including all districts with more than 3,000 students. For more information about the CRDC data items, please visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/whatsnew.html.
OCR is committed to working with schools, students, students’ families, community and advocacy organizations, and other interested parties to ensure that students are not subjected to harassment. Please do not hesitate to contact OCR if we can provide assistance in your efforts to address harassment or if you have other civil rights concerns.
For the OCR regional office serving your state, please visit: http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OCR/contactus.cfm, or call OCR’s Customer Service Team at 1-800-421-3481.
I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure equal access to education, and to promote safe and respectful school climates for America’s students.
|Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights|