The White House is trying to keep gay students from being bullied. Some conservative groups are trying to stop them.
Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools & Communities in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday, a meeting held to call attention to the work the administration is doing to make schools do more to protect gay students from bullying. They’ve set up a section of a government website to combat bullying of LGBT students and several officials have participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign.
But outside of the public relations effort, the Justice Department has taken the controversial legal position that Title IX, a law intended to ban gender discrimination, bans discrimination against students who don’t conform to gender stereotypes as well. DOJ has already reached agreements with a few schools based on that reading of the law.
Some see it as a government overreach.
“I should say upfront I’m against bullying,” Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights against DOJ’s interpretation of the law, told TPM. Several conservative members of the Commission dissented from the report, with two of them calling it “creative interpretation” of the statute.
“I think that bullying on the basis of sexual orientation is clearly not an area in which there is federal authority,” Clegg said. “The legal question aside, I also thing as a policy matter, this is not an issue in which the federal government’s involvement is going to help.”
Clegg believes that schools have the responsibility to protect their students from bullying but that the issue is better handled on the local and state level.
“You’d think that the gay community of all communities would understand that it’s not a good idea for the government to make up a law when it wants to go after an unpopular group or when it wants to score political points,” Clegg said.
“This is not a situation in which, if the federal government doesn’t go in, nobody can do anything and people are going to die or anything like that,” Clegg said. “There are state and local governments in addition to the schools that can get involved. I don’t find this to be a really difficult issue.”
Clegg isn’t the only one against the federal anti-bullying effort. An official with Focus on the Family said at a Conservative Political Action Conference panel last month that anti-bullying efforts were an effort to implement thought control. Many contend that anti-bullying laws are simply a way to impose a “homosexual agenda” in schools.
The battle over whether the federal government should get involved in the issue comes as several states like Michigan and Tennessee have debated anti-bullying legislation with a “loophole” to ensure religious students can still express their views, some say violently, on homosexuality.
The administration would like the federal government to be able to do more to prevent bullying. Holder said in his prepared remarks on Tuesday that the administration “strongly supports the goals of the Student Non-Discrimination Act,” legislation proposed by Sen. Al Franken that is modeled after Title IX.
“We have an obligation to protect young people who are targeted just because they’re perceived as ‘different’ - and to make sure they know that we’re working with schools and communities to address bigotry before it becomes fuel for violence,” Holder said in his prepared remarks.