Using Title IX to combat bullying

This blog was cross-posted from The Bilerico Project. Blogger Devi Rao is a Fellow at the National Women’s Law Center.

We know that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ kids in school is a serious problem. Many of these stats will not be news to you:

But here’s what you may not know: some of this bullying is sex-based harassment that’s prohibited by Title IX.

Title IX is often discussed in the context of equity in school sports, and it’s done a lot to improve girls’ opportunities to play. But it’s more than that. It’s a federal civil rights law that prohibits all forms of sex discrimination in education. Among other things, Title IX protects students from bullying and harassment based on failure to conform to gender norms or stereotypes about how a boy or girl is “supposed” to act.

For example, a boy is protected by Title IX if he is targeted for having effeminate mannerisms, participating in non-traditional extracurricular activities (e.g. dance or theatre) or dressing in a manner perceived as “gay.” So is a girl targeted for having short hair, wearing baggy clothes, taking shop rather than home economics, etc.

This means that LGBTQ students who are bullied or harassed based on gender stereotypes are protected by Title IX, even though there isn’t a federal civil rights law explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (yet – The Student Non-Discrimination Act would change that and prohibit discrimination in K-12 public schools on the basis of a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or association with an LGBT person.).

So what can you do?

  • Speak up! A school must do something about harassment that it knows or reasonably should know about. A school is required to investigate the harassment in a prompt, thorough and fair way. If a school determines that sexual harassment has occurred, it must take effective steps to end the harassment and prevent it from happening again.
  • Learn more about Title IX and its application to bullying and harassment at www.nwlc.org/bullying.
  • Get tips on combating bullying and learn about your state’s anti-bullying law at www.stopbullying.gov.
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