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Bullying and Harassment

Let's Make It Get Better for LGBT Students

Middle school and high school can be brutal for anyone who does not fit the mold of whatever it means to be “cool.” But, it can be particularly rough for students who are questioning their sexuality or coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). And, today youth are coming out at younger and younger ages. In addition to realizing their lives don’t quite match the fairytales they grew up with or heteronormative media messages that surround them, these students often attend schools that openly discriminate against them based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and choose to ignore the harassment they face from their peers.

Federal civil rights statutes expressly prohibit discrimination in education based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. However, these laws do not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though the Department of Education says that Title IX should protect students from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, because the law does not explicitly protect LGBT students, these students and their parents often have limited legal recourse when their schools ignore discrimination (including bullying and harassment) based on LGBT (or suspected LGBT) status.

The Senate has the opportunity to fix that. Late yesterday, Senator Franken (D-Minn.) began speaking on the Senate floor about the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which he is introducing as an amendment to S. 1177, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Read more »

We Need More Women in Hard Hats

When you think of a construction worker, what image comes to mind? Chances are you think of a man, and that’s no surprise. Women are only 2.6% of all construction workers, and that number is the same as it was 30 years ago. Our new report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground delves into some of the reasons why women are so underrepresented in construction and what can be done about it.

Despite women’s increasing share of other male-dominated jobs—such as sheriffs, police detectives, and firefighters—the numbers of women in construction have barely budged. The roadblocks women faces to entering the construction field have serious economic consequences for them and their families, especially given that construction jobs typically offer women the opportunity to earn higher wages. The median hourly wage for construction occupations is about double the median wage for female-dominated occupations such as home health aides and child care workers.

One major obstacle is the persistent harassment and hostility that women face in construction. According to a U.S. Department of Labor study, 88 percent of female construction workers face sexual harassment on the job. Read more »

EEOC Plays Crucial Role in Rooting Out Workplace Discrimination

Yesterday the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing on “The Regulatory and Enforcement Priorities of the EEOC.”

As witness Sherilynn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, noted, fifty years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, discrimination is still an all too common workplace reality. [PDF]

Addressing this persistent problem requires a strategic approach to enforcing our nation’s nondiscrimination laws. And that is exactly the approach the EEOC has taken through its Strategic Enforcement Plan, which identified priority areas for enforcement. Importantly, during its development of the Plan, the EEOC sought input from a wide range of stakeholders on the priority areas of focus for its enforcement efforts.

Read more »

There’s No “Magic” Solution to Bullying and Harassment, But the Safe Schools Improvement Act is an Important Start

“My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is a cartoon show that has captured the imaginations of many, with a huge fan base of kids and adults alike. The lessons about kindness relayed in that show should be reinforced by the adults in children’s lives, particularly by those who teach children in our schools. Yet that is not always the case, as 9-year-old North Carolina student Grayson Bruce recently learned. When Grayson was bullied at school for wearing a “girlie” My Little Pony backpack, his school’s administrators told him the solution was simple: Stop bringing the backpack, which was “triggering” the bullying. In other words, he was to blame, not the kids who tormented him for being different from a stereotypical boy.

Grayson’s outraged mother launched a Facebook page in protest, and soon attracted over 700,000 fans. When school officials heard the outcry, they met with Grayson’s parents and reversed their decision. “Every situation with young children is a teachable moment and we will use this example in our efforts to address a wider issue of bullying. The Bruce family has committed to working with us to improve and enhance our anti-bullying programs,” administrators have since stated. Read more »

Students Need the Safe Schools Improvement Act

Since it came out a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the website Microaggressions. The website attempts to create a dialogue around the way small interactions about race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or other characteristics can have enormous impact on an individual’s lived experience. According to the website, “microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative…slights.” The website is filled with stories of comments and experiences that make submitters feel “erased,” “ignored” or like they don’t matter.

While many of these incidents may seem minor in isolation, put together – and depending on the surrounding circumstances – they can rise to the level of bullying or harassment. This is a particular problem in schools. I certainly remember how, in middle school and high school, a small comment about my hair being frizzy or me not wearing makeup could throw off my entire day. When such comments or other conduct is severe or pervasive, it can create a hostile environment, in which the victim cannot focus on or succeed in his or her schoolwork. In educational settings, harassment is more than a hurtful inconvenience – it’s a barrier to an effective and fair learning environment. Read more »

The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act: Stopping Harassment on College Campuses

Today, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is introducing the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. This bill is an important step forward in stopping harassment on college campuses. It is named after the former Rutgers University student who, in 2010, tragically took his own life after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man and spread links to the webcam stream via Twitter.

The Act would require colleges and universities receiving federal aid to develop and distribute a campus harassment policy that would:

  • apply to harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion;
  • prohibit harassment of students, faculty, and staff;
  • describe the school’s harassment prevention programs;
  • explain the procedures that a student should follow if he or she is harassed; and
  • set out the procedures that the school will follow once an incident has been reported, including possible sanctions to be imposed in a disciplinary proceeding.

Surgery as a response to sexual harassment? Try Title IX.

In this week’s round of “are you sure that’s not from The Onion?”: a school in Missouri has told the mother of a middle school student that she should consider a breast reduction to escape sexual harassment.  

After her thirteen-year-old daughter faced bullying and harassment due to her large breast size, Tammie Jackson called the school to ask for help. The school official she spoke with suggested that her daughter could transfer to a different school, then stated that in her opinion, her daughter would face the same sexual harassment at any school due to her physique.

This classic victim-blaming rhetoric puts the blame on Jackson’s daughter, rather than on the students who are sexually harassing her. It tells a thirteen-year-old girl that the problem is her body, rather than the attitudes and actions of others. Furthermore, under Title IX, a response like this could be against the law. Read more »

Friday Absurdity Part II: Hate Group Appointed to Anti-Bullying Task Force

People, you just canNOT make this stuff up. Last Friday, I brought you the absurd story of the student who was bullied during at TV interview ON BULLYING.

Then today I find this gem: a school district appointed a hate group to its anti-bullying task force. Yep. You read that correctly.

Back in March, the Anoka-Hennepin School District just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice filed a landmark consent decree to resolve plaintiffs’ claims that middle and high schools in the district failed to address pervasive bullying and harassment of LGBT students (and those perceived as LGBT). The students had alleged violations of a number of laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination—including harassment of students for gender non-conformity—in schools that receive federal funding. Read more »

Student Bullied During T.V. Interview on Bullying

Wow—here’s your dose of Friday absurdity. A couple of days ago, a student was bullied on camera when he was about to sit for a TV news interview on … wait for it … bullying. This story makes my brain hurt.

Preston Deener, a Brunswick High School sophomore in Brunswick, Maryland, was preparing for an interview on bullying at his school with the local TV news station when three boys approached him. They didn’t seem to care AT ALL that the camera was set up and the reporter was standing there, and they started pushing Preston. One even began repeatedly hitting Preston in the head.

Preston didn’t fight back. The camera caught him running in front of traffic—being chased by one of the boys—to tell administration what had happened. Nice job, Preston! Way to turn the other cheek! Read more »

I’m a LGBT ally! Are you?

Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone! In honor of this day, in which we celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or as an ally, I wanted to take a minute to highlight our resources on existing federal protections for LGBT students. Plus, I’ll give shout-outs to a couple of important laws that the National Women’s Law Center is working hard to get passed, along with our allies at the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, the ACLU, and others.

Before I do that, though, take just a second to review a few of the latest stats showing the extent to which bullying and harassment of LGBT students in schools is a serious problem.

  • More than 8 out of 10 LGBT students had experienced verbal harassment (being called names or threatened) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • LGBT youth are twice as likely as their non-LGBT peers to say that they have been verbally harassed and called names at school.
  • Youth who are out at school are more likely than students who are not out to have been called names involving anti-gay slurs, and to experience verbal harassment at school “frequently.”

In some cases, this conduct is more than just “bullying,” it’s sex-based harassment that’s prohibited by Title IX. Read more »