Responding to an influx of reported LGBT teen suicides, the U.S. Department of Education announced Oct. 25 that it will release a letter to educators highlighting their legal obligations to protect LGBT students from bullying.
The announcement marks the first time the department has spelled out schools' responsibilities to protect LGBT students from harassment.
"We think this could not be any more timely or important," said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights in a press call. "When LGBT students are harassed, folks don't realize that because Federal Civil Rights Laws don't protect against sexual orientation discrimination, these students are still very much so protected by the federal civil rights laws."
The letter does not introduce new policy, nor does it change Federal Laws that already protect students from discrimination. Current education laws do not include protections based on sexual orientation, but they do protect against "gender-based stereotyping. Officials said those laws should be enforced to protect LGBT students.
"The type of harassment directed at LGBT students takes the form of gender-based stereotyping, and that is protected," said Scott Hamilton, press secretary for the department. "This is the first time that office for civil rights and the dept for education has articulated and clarified responsibilities that educators have to protect GLBT folks against the kinds of harassment covered under essentially gender stereotyping and gender-based harassment."
Department officials also said that schools that did not comply with anti-discrimination laws could lose federal funding, and that they were beginning a grassroots campaign to inform the public about enforcement of anti-harassment laws.
For more information on anti-harassment laws that protect LGBT students or to report a school, visit http:// www.bullyinginfo.org .