The United States Justice Department recently struck a blow against bullying behavior. Officials there reversed a decade-old policy and asked to intervene in a harassment suit brought by a gay youth.
The student, only identified as Jacob, claimed to have been harassed for years because he is effeminate. He'd been pushed down the stairs and threatened at knife point. A teacher allegedly told Jacob to “hate himself every day until he changed.” Eventually, he switched schools and, with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, sued his former school district for discrimination.
Of course, things would have been better had Jacob been able to stop the harassment. That might have happened if the school district had drafted and enforced a strict no-bully policy.
On its “Stop Bullying Now!” website, the Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as “aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength.” The agency goes further, noting that bullying against LGBT youth is often sexual in nature and can resemble sexual harassment.
But straight youngsters are also victims of sexual bullying. Jacqueline Fitzgerald was in kindergarten when she was sexually bullied by a third grader. The little girl was repeatedly forced to lift her dress and pull down her underpants. Although the school investigated, officials refused to assign the bully to a different bus. The Fitzgerald family sued. Last January, the United States Supreme Court sided with the family, reversing lower courts decisions and allowing the case to proceed.
The Fitzgeralds argued that the school had violated Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination. Jacob's family is making the same argument, saying the statute covers cases based on gender stereotypes as well. Time will tell whether the argument works. Still, a student shouldn't have to go to court to stop bullying. The problem should be addressed where it starts: in school