Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Jersey Presses Anti-Gay Discrimination Charges Against School District

The federal Department of Education is not the only agency trying to hold schools accoutable for their role in bullying of students who are or perceived to be gay.

The New Jersey Office of Civil Rights has reportedly filed a complaint with the state's Department of Law and Public Safety against Ridgewood Public School District, alleging that it violated the state nondiscrimination law when it discriminated against then-high school student Matthew Zimmer. The district allegedly committed discrimination against Matthew when his health teacher outed him to his class, and when school officials painted over a "gay must die" graffiti without addressing the incident with the student body. The agency believes that the district's conduct created an environment that denied Matthew of his education by forcing him to withdraw from school.

Unlike Title IX, New Jersey law enumerates protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. This gives the state agency wider latitude than its federal counterpart to consider acts of discrimination that are motivated solely by the student's orientation, rather than only those overlapping with the student's gender nonconformity. The article does not say whether Matthew was targeted for appearing or behaving in a nonmasculine manner, but if he was not, this may have been a harder case to pursue under Title IX. It's therefore a good illustration for why it is important for state laws to include sexual orientation in their antidiscrimination laws. As this map illustrates, most states do not have such comprehensive laws.