January 23, 2012 Articles

Title IX Liability for Anti-Gay Bullying

By J. Dalton Courson and Abigayle C. Farris

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens are frequently a target for school bullying. According to Mental Health America and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), LGBT teens hear anti-gay slurs about 26 times per day, or once every 14 minutes. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school because of their sexual orientation. Nearly half reported being physically harassed, and about a quarter reported being physically assaulted. Of those students who were harassed or assaulted, 60 percent did not report the bullying incident to their teachers or other school officials, claiming, most commonly, that they did not believe anything would be done to address the situation. Of those who did report the incident, nearly one-third said school staff did nothing in response. Too often, anti-gay bullying ends with the targeted students harming themselves, as demonstrated by the recent spate of media attention to this issue following several teen suicides.

Schools, school districts, and state education departments nationwide are examining and revamping their anti-bullying policies to better address the issue of LGBT bullying. The issue is often controversial. For example, after six teen suicides—including at least three attributed to gay bulling—Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District amended, but did not abolish, a controversial curriculum policy mandating "neutrality" in classroom discussions of sexual orientation, which barred discussion of LGBT issues in schools. Some parents and students claimed the policy left teachers and administrators uncertain as to what they could say to students about sexual orientation, undermining faculty and staff efforts to stop the bullying of LGBT students. In a May 24, 2011, letter to the district, seeking the repeal of the neutrality policy, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) described the policy as singling out LGBT students and preventing school employees from addressing bullying.

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