HRC Blog

Federal Civil Rights Commission Holds Briefing on Bullying and Harassment

Last Friday, the United States Commission on Civil Rights held a full day briefing on “Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying,” which included discussion of the violence and bullying faced by members of the LGBT community.  HRC President Joe Solmonese submitted written testimony thanking the Commission for discussing this serious topic and for including the LGBT community in the discussion.  The written statement also encouraged the Commission to continue to address the civil rights barriers that face the LGBT community.

Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, opened up the briefing by stating, “students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.”  In addition, Jocelyn Samuels, Senior Counselor in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, stated, “[a]s a matter of policy and practice, school districts have a responsibility to stop bullying and harassment whenever it happens.”

From there, a panel of experts testified on the prevalence and consequence of bullying of LGBT youth.  According to Greg Herrick, a researcher with more than 30 years of experience with empirical research related to sexual orientation, “bullying and victimization have negative consequences for all students who experience them [but] being targeted for bullying because of one’s sexual orientation is associated with more problems and greater distress than is experiencing bullying or harassment that is not related to one’s identity.”

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), discussed the results of GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey.  According to this survey, 61% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 39.9% because of how they express their gender.  The survey also shows that “LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to feel not safe at school.”

The last panel of the day included Tammy Aaberg, who lost her son, Justin, last July.  Her testimony detailed the verbal and physical bullying and harassment suffered by Justin at school, and the school district’s ineffective response to the bullying and harassment.  She plead with the Commission to encourage Congress to address bullying and harassment with legislation requiring schools to enact bullying and harassment policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

This was one of the first briefings of the Commission since Roberta Achtenberg was appointed to the Commission by President Obama.  Commissioner Achtenberg was the first openly gay presidential appointee to be confirmed by the Senate when she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993.  At the briefing, Commissioner Achtenberg submitted into the record over 3,000 pages of research showing the prevalence and consequences of bullying and harassment on the LGBT community.  The written testimony by Joe Solmonese thanked Commissioner Achtenberg for serving as a role model to all LGBT youth.  We also thank Chairman Marty Castro and Commissioners Michael Yaki and Dina Titus for their clear interest in including LGBT students in the federal response to student bullying and harassment.

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