During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez voiced support for Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken’s “Student Non-Discrimination Act,” a bill that would “end bullying in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” That’s an ambitious but good goal.
Perez said we need the law because “the bullying of kids who are LGBT is probably the largest growth area in [the DOJ Civil Rights division docket],” adding, “this is an emerging growth area, I regret to say.” And that’s bad… right?
Depends on how you look at it.
In one way, even though LGBT kids are getting bullied more often, the fact that the DOJ recognizes it as an “emerging growth area” might signify the following positive trends:
1) More and more LGBT students are coming out as a result of a growing comfort with being out in American culture.
2) Schools, students, and parents have done a better job reporting anti-LGBT bullying to school administrators, state boards, and eventually the government. This suggests that GLSEN, PFLAG, GSAs, the It Gets Better campaign, and the media have all done a good job educating people about this issue.
3) Government agencies (and not just LGBT orgs) have begun collecting more data on LGBT bullying, something that will be harder for future administrations to ignore.
Of course, the rise in LGBT bullying could also mean that more younger bullies have been influenced by the virulently anti-gay campaigns 2004 and statewide anti-gay referendums ever since, though without any hard data we’ll never know for sure. Bullies aren’t known for wanting to participate in studies analyzing why they’re such assholes.
Nevertheless, when asked about the benefits of LGBT hate crimes laws like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Perez said:
“It has “transformed our ability to combat hate crimes in remarkable ways. One of the really remarkable and helpful ways that this has transformed our government is that is has facilitated additional cooperation with state and local authorities. We’ve trained over 4,000 local law enforcement officers. I have participated personally in many of them. Our message is this: this is not a law simply for the feds, this is everyone’s law.”
Perez said he doesn’t measure the success of the law by the number of federal prosecutions of hate crimes, but in terms of whether it has prevented crimes…
His words not only confirm our suspicions that hate crime laws ensure a prompt and thorough investigation by police—rather than serving merely as a deterrent to would-be bashers—but it also makes us wonder, have hate crime laws really reduced hate crimes against LGBTs?
Going by last year’s statistcs, it would seem not.