(CNSNews.com) – Middle and high school students in Minnesota who were bullied because “they dared to be out” and a Department of Justice attorney who is a transgender activist were honored by Attorney General Eric Holder and other DOJ officials on Wednesday.
Six students who were plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging harassment by fellow students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s middle and high schools received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award.
According to the DOJ, the Departments of Education and Justice investigated the school district after receiving complaints and last March announced a settlement that includes a five-year plan for “addressing and resolving the allegations in the complaints.”
“This harassment was occurring because these students were gay, perceived to be gay, or they didn’t dress or act in a way that conformed to gender stereotypes,” said Bijal Shah, associate general counsel for the DOJ Executive Office for Immigration Review in announcing the award. “In other words, because they dared to be out; to be themselves.”
Students Dylon Frei, Brittany Geldert, Damian McGee-Backes, Ebonie Richardson, Kyle Rooker and Kyrstin Schuette joined Holder and other officials on stage and were each given a framed certificate.
Diana Flynn, chief for the appellate section of DOJ’s civil rights division, was the recipient of the James R. Douglass Award.
Flynn, who is transgender, has been at the DOJ for more than 25 years, according to her biography.
Marc Salans, president of “DOJ Pride,” which hosted the event, said in introducing Holder that the attorney general has made diversity a priority during his tenure.
In his remarks, Holder congratulated the DOJ attorneys and the students “for their innovative, dedicated efforts to prevent and combat sexual identity-based discrimination in the classroom.”
“Your actions have made a profound difference in the lives of countless young people, and helped to ensure that all of our children have access to safe and supportive learning environments,” he said.
“I’d also like to acknowledge this year’s James R. Douglass Award recipient, Diana Flynn – chief of the civil rights division’s appellate section – who is being honored for her remarkable work in raising awareness about – and helping to address – a host of issues facing LGBT employees across the department.
“Today’s awardees have made a tremendous impact – improving lives, families, and entire communities,” Holder said. “They’ve also helped to advance our nation’s critical and ongoing struggle for LGBT equality.
“And each one of them serves as an important reminder that this work is driven forward –not just by institutions like this one – but also by individual actions, of courage, compassion, and commitment.”
On June 1, President Obama issued a proclamation designating June as “LGBT Pride Month.”
“Moving forward, my administration will continue its work to advance the rights of LGBT Americans,” the president said. “This month, as we reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go, let us recall that the progress we have made is built on the words and deeds of ordinary Americans.
“Let us pay tribute to those who came before us, and those who continue their work today; and let us rededicate ourselves to a task that is unending – the pursuit of a Nation where all are equal, and all have the full and unfettered opportunity to pursue happiness and live openly and freely,” he said.