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Obama administration: ‘Gender stereotypes’ can violate federal civil rights law

November 22, 2010

In a recent letter that could have a potentially chilling effect on students’ free-speech rights, an official of the Obama administration told principals nationwide that students who propound “stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity” may be violating federal civil rights law when their remarks lead to an environment perceived as hostile by homosexual students.

The official also stated that students who make "anti-LGBT comments" may be violating federal legislation against sex discrimination.

Commenting on a hypothetical case in which a student was “physically assaulted, threatened, and ridiculed because he did not conform to stereotypical notions of how teenage boys are expected to act and appear (e.g., effeminate mannerisms, nontraditional choice of extracurricular activities, apparel, and personal grooming choices),” the assistant secretary for civil rights of the US Department of Education appeared to focus more on the “stereotypical notions” than on the physical assault or threats.

“It can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity,” wrote Russlynn Ali. “Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination.”

“The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment,” she added.

Ali said that schools should offer

a more comprehensive response to the situation that involved notice to the student’s teachers so that they could ensure the student was not subjected to any further harassment, more aggressive monitoring by staff of the places where harassment occurred, increased training on the scope of the school’s harassment and discrimination policies, notice to the target and harassers of available counseling services and resources, and educating the entire school community on civil rights and expectations of tolerance, specifically as they apply to gender stereotypes.


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  • Posted by: impossible - Nov. 22, 2010 10:07 PM ET USA

    Consider the flip side of this, "may be violating federal civil rights law when their remarks lead to an environment perceived as hostile by homosexual students." How about passing a law requiring schools/students "to insure an environment not perceived as hostile by Christians?" In either case, It's obviously not constitutional for the Fed or State to enact laws protecting one's comfort or feelings. How have we allowed "perception" become a synonym of "reality?"