“Despite all that we’ve achieved in recent years, the road ahead – toward equality, opportunity, and justice for every American, regardless of identity or orientation – still stretches beyond the horizon. Although we can be encouraged by the work that’s underway . . . the fact remains that, across the country, far too many LGBT Americans suffer discrimination each and every day. That’s why the Department will keep working to promote opportunity and access for every individual.” — Attorney General Eric Holder
This post is courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Roy L. Austin Jr.
This week Attorney General Eric Holder joined Senator Tammy Baldwin and a number of other Justice Department officials to lead the department’s annual celebration of LGBT Pride Month. Together they honored a “year of firsts,” the great strides made by the department on the road to LGBT equality and in the effort to protect the civil rights of all Americans.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is at the forefront of this work. By enforcing a wide range of federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in education, employment, housing, policing, and federally-funded programs, the division continues robust efforts to combat discrimination in all its forms.
Due to the division’s work in the education context, for example, students in Anoka-Hennepin, Minn., who don’t conform to their classmates’ stereotypes of how boys and girls are “supposed to” act, are now being protected from threats, physical violence and other forms of harassment at school. A comprehensive agreement reached by the division requires the Anoka-Hennepin School District to implement a plan to end gender-based harassment and provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. The division has reached similar agreements to address and prevent student-on-student harassment of LGBT students across the country. All students have a right to be safe in their schools.
Another way the division advances civil rights protections for LGBT individuals is by working to ensure that law enforcement officials treat everyone equally. After finding that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), among other things, discriminated against and disproportionately punished LGBT individuals, the division reached a landmark agreement to provide for constitutional policing in New Orleans. The agreement is the first to address a pattern-or-practice of gender-biased policing, including NOPD practices that discriminated based on sexual orientation. Soon after, the division reached an agreement with the Puerto Rico Police Department to improve its investigation of crimes against the LGBT community and guide officers’ interactions with transgender and transsexual individuals going forward.
The division also investigates, addresses and works to prevent hate crimes, including those targeting LGBT individuals. The Justice Department enforces the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009. To date the division has convicted six individuals under the Act for physically assaulting others due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation. And the department has worked with thousands of law enforcement officers and community activists around the country to provide guidance on responding to and investigating hate crimes, and to make clear that all victims and witnesses must be treated with respect.
Additionally, the division has brought numerous cases on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS who were denied access to programs or services. In one such case, a student was denied enrollment in a private school based on his HIV; in others, patients with HIV were barred from treatment programs or even certain dentist appointments. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees equal opportunity for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and the division will continue to enforce the ADA to ensure that all such individuals can live free of stigma and discrimination in their communities.
The division’s strong record on LGBT issues is made possible by its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Working Group. The LGBTI Working Group explores how existing civil rights laws might address discrimination experienced by LGBTI individuals and identifies cases for the division to participate in that address these matters. The group also advises the division’s leadership on legal and policy issues relating to the civil rights of LGBTI individuals, and provides technical and outreach assistance to other components of the Justice Department, various federal agencies and relevant stakeholders.
In addition to the results the working group and its members have achieved in the cases above, the group has led the division to open a number of investigations into alleged sex discrimination against LGBTI people in employment, prisons, schools and housing. The division will continue to pursue these investigations in the months to come.