Homosexual Students May Be Protected by Federal Law Barring ‘Sex’ Discrimination, Education Dept. Says

By Penny Starr | October 28, 2010 | 9:10 AM EDT

Education Secretary Arne Duncan looks on as President Barack Obama talks to students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s recent warning to the nation’s public schools – that some bullying may violate federal anti-discrimination law – is less about bullying than it is about advancing the homosexual agenda in public schools, some critics say.

Others are calling for new laws to make sexual orientation a specific protected class under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Education Department’s Civil Rights Office sent a letter to 10,000 public schools and school districts and 5,000 colleges and universities, reminding them that some student misconduct may also fall into the category of “discriminatory harassment.”

The letter follows an outcry over the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge last month after his homosexual encounter in a dorm room was filmed and posted online. Clementi’s suicide focused attention on other recent cases of homosexual students being taunted or bullied by fellow classmates.

The Education Department told schools they must consider whether student misconduct rises to the level of discrimination that violates students’ federal civil rights.

According to the letter, school districts may violate federal civil rights law “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.”

But the letter also acknowledges that sexual orientation is not a protected class under U.S. civil rights law:

“Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, from sex discrimination,” the letter says. “When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also…be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX.”

Under Title IX, the letter says, schools are obligated to investigate and remedy harassment that includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the harassed student’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Advancing the homosexual agenda

“I think this whole thing is about advancing the homosexual agenda in public schools,” Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis with the American Family Association, told CNSNews.com. “This whole thing is about pressing schools to normalize homosexual behavior and punish, intimidate and silence anyone who would have any criticism or disagreement with the normalization of homosexual behavior.”

Fisher gave an example of how a student might be silenced for expressing the opinion that homosexual behavior is contrary to nature and dangerous to human health. Based on the Education Department’s letter, such a statement “could be considered a verbal act that is humiliating, even though it doesn’t have an intent to harm. So you have a student who could simply be telling the truth about homosexual behavior and that would be classified as a violation of federal civil rights law,” Fisher said.

The Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual advocacy group, applauded the Education Department’s letter but also called for new laws to specifically protect students from discrimination based on “sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In an Oct. 20 commentary, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, weighed in on bullying.

“The Christians and pro-family leaders I know are unanimous in believing that no person, especially a child, should be subjected to verbal or physical harassment or violence--whether because of their sexuality, their religious beliefs, or for any other reason,” Perkins wrote. “Such bullying violates the Christian's obligation to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and receives no support from the pro-family political movement.

But Perkins also said that Christian compassion requires telling the truth about homosexuality: “The model for a Christian response to homosexuals may be the story of the woman caught in adultery,” Perkins wrote. “When the crowd responded with violence, by gathering to stone her, Jesus said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ Knowing that they were all sinners, the crowd melted away. But Jesus' words to the woman he saved were crucial. He did not say, ‘Go, for you have not sinned.’ Instead, he said, ‘Go and sin no more.’

“There is no contradiction between Christian compassion and a call for holy living. But the life which is holy (from a spiritual perspective) or even healthy (from a secular perspective) requires abstinence from homosexual conduct,” Perkins said. “We would do no one a favor if we ceased to proclaim that truth.”

‘It Gets Better’

The Obama administration recently signed on to an “It Gets Better” campaign – an effort to support young people who are bullied for being homosexual or perceived as homosexual.

President Obama himself taped a message saying, “No one should have to endure relentless harassment or tormenting. No one should ever feel so alone or desperate that they feel they have nowhere to turn. We each share a responsibility to protect our young people. And we also have an obligation to set an example of respect and kindness, regardless of our differences.”

On Tuesday, in a news release posted along with the Education Department’s letter to schools, President Obama said it’s time to dispel the “myth” that “bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” the president said.

“We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids. Every single young person deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential, without having to worry about the constant threat of harassment.”

Likewise, Education Secretary Arne Duncan had a message on Tuesday for every student who feels bullied: "Bullying is a problem that shouldn't exist,” he said “No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others.

"To every student who feels threatened or harassed—for whatever reason—please know that you are not alone,” Duncan said. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”