(CNSNews.com) – Sixty-eight congressional Democrats have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking the Education Department to “use every avenue at its disposal to protect LGBT students from discriminatory school environments.”
This follows failed attempts in both the House and Senate to advance legislation mandating federal LGBT non-discrimination protections in schools.
The letter-signers, headed by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), praised “the unprecedented efforts” Education Department has made recently to address “the many challenges that LGBT students face in our nation’s schools.”
They specifically referred to the guidance issued by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in April 2014, saying that “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.”
Polis and his colleagues called this a “promising step,” but they urged Secretary Duncan to “build on these initial steps by developing, finalizing, and issuing guidance that clearly outlines schools’ obligations to protect LGBT students from discrimination under Title IX.”
The Democrats said the guidance should cover “what steps schools must take to cover issues such as access to curricular and extracurricular activities, protecting student privacy, and the application of dress standards.” And it should also help schools understand their “obligation to prevent bullying and harassment against LGBT students under current law.”
The letter cited statistics from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2013 School Climate Survey showing that nearly three quarters of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation; 55 percent reported being verbally harassed because of their gender expression; 49 percent said they had been bullied over the Internet; and more than a third had been physically harassed or assaulted.
The letter came last Tuesday, after the Senate rejected an amendment (The Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2015) introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would have mandated a “comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Senator Franken told Buzzfeed News that his amendment would have settled questions about which restrooms transgender students could use. “Transgender students under Franken’s policy would be able use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity ‘without harassment,’” Buzzfeed reported.
“There’s no doubt bullying or harassment of children based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is a terrible problem,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday evening. “The question is, is this an argument that is best addressed to the local school board or to the State Board of Education or to a national school board in Washington, D.C.?
“This substitutes the judgment of the people closest to the children who cherish them, substitutes the judgment of Washington bureaucrats for them,” Alexander said. “It allows the federal government to regulate and dictate local school gender identity policies such as those related to restrooms, sports teams, locker rooms, and dress codes. It will lead to costly lawsuits.”
Last week, as CNSNews.com reported, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidance to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual employees – stepping in because Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Current law does not include sexual orientation as a protected class in the workplace. But it does forbid workplace discrimination based on “sex.”
So the EEOC administratively expanded the definition of sex discrimination to cover lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.
In 2012, the EEOC ruled that discrimination against transgenders (also known as gender identity discrimination) is also the kind of “sex” discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.