HRC Blog

Title IX at 40: Protecting Students from Gender-Based Harassment

By Lara Kaufmann, Senior Counsel and Director of Education Policy for At-Risk Students, and Devi Rao, Fellow, at the National Women’s Law Center:

Meet Bobby Brugger, a mother who discovered that her 13-year-old daughter was being bullied and harassed while teachers passively watched. She armed herself with knowledge about Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination—including sex- and gender-based harassment—in education. But when Bobby met with her daughter’s principal, “it became clear that he didn’t really know much about Title IX and didn’t understand what his legal obligations were.” She said that “just bringing up Title IX got the principal’s attention.” 

Bobby’s story is part of a project the National Women’s Law Center just launched in honor of Title IX’s 40th anniversary. “Faces of Title IX” is an online portal featuring nine diverse stories that put a human face on this groundbreaking law and reflect its broad range. 

In addition to protecting students from being bullied or harassed based on sex, Title IX mandates equal opportunities on the playing field, protects pregnant and parenting students from being pushed out of school, and requires that women and girls get equal opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. “Faces” illustrates how much work remains to fulfill Title IX’s promise. 

In fact, many people do not know that Title IX protects students from discrimination—including peer-on-peer bullying and harassment—based on failure to conform to stereotypes about how a boy or girl is “supposed” to act. They don’t understand that some of what people might call “bullying” or “kids being kids” is actually harmful sexual harassment that is prohibited under Title IX.

So LGBT students who are bullied and harassed based on sex stereotypes are protected by Title IX, even though there isn’t a federal civil rights law that explicitly prohibits 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.). 

Bullying and harassment are all too common in our nation’s schools. One study found that nearly half of all students experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year.  And LGBT students are especially likely to be victims of bullying and harassment: HRC’s recent survey of 13-17 year-old self-identified LGBT youth found that LGBT youth are twice as likely to have been verbally harassed at school as their non-LGBT peers.

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