Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said during an oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the Obama administration continues to be concerned about a growing number of bullying cases that are being reported, and particularly those relating to anti-LGBT bullying.
“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 later went on to say that Congressional action on nondiscrimination legislation would be “helpful” but again did not indicate any preferred legislation.
He did, however, highlight the administration’s engagement with anti-bullying efforts, such as the anti-bullying summit held in March by the President and First Lady Michelle Obama. Perez went on to highlight that the Education Department has also sent notice that it is interpreting federal law prohibiting gender discrimination to cover LGBT students who do not conform to gender norms — this is not a perfect solution as it will not apply in all cases, but it is an example of how the administration has worked independently to try and combat this issue.
Perez also discussed how the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law in 2009, has been a boon to the administration. Perez elaborates that because of the act the administration has been able to train over 4,000 local law enforcement officers, adding that the legislation’s scope goes far beyond securing hate crimes charges against those convicted of bias motivated crimes and that it has “facilitated additional cooperation with state and local authorities.”
Perez also talked about ENDA, the Employment Non Discrimination Act, that would prevent sexual orientation and gender identity and expression-related discrimination in the workplace, whereby he reiterated the administration’s support for the legislation. ENDA currently languishes in Congress with little hope of passing due to an LGBT rights-hostile Republican majority (especially given that the Democratic legislators couldn’t muster the impetus to pass the bill with majorities in both chambers prior to this).
To read more on Perez’s comments click over to the Washington Blade.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SENDA) mentioned above, introduced in the House by Rep. Polis (D-Col.) and the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), would add to existing federal statutes explicit protections against bullying on the grounds of perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
If schools receiving federal funds do not adequately combat and track incidents of anti-LGBT bullying or if school administrators are found to have discriminated against LGBT children then, under the Student Non Discrimination Act, their federal funding may be cut.
The legislation currently sits waiting to be taken up by Congress.
Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Cesar Augusto Serna Sz