Yesterday, for the first time in a decade, the Justice Department intervened in a gay rights suit. In August, an openly gay 14-year-old student named Jacob — with the help of the ACLU — sued the Mohawk Central School District in upstate New York because officials “did not appropriately respond to relentless harassment, physical abuse and threats of violence” that Jacob received because of his sexual orientation. NPR reported on some of the harassment to which Jacob alleges he was subjected:
Long before Jacob came out of the closet at age 14, he was harassed for being effeminate. According to court papers, kids threw food at him and told him to get a sex change. One student pulled out a knife and threatened to string Jacob up the flagpole. A teacher allegedly told Jacob to “hate himself every day until he changed.”
One day, Jacob came home from school limping. That evening, he called his father from a party and said he had sprained his ankle at the party.
Sullivan described taking his son to the hospital: “It was a really bad sprain. They put a cast on it, gave him crutches. And shortly after that, I found out that it didn’t happen at the party. It happened at the school, because somebody had pushed him down the stairs.”
Over two years, Sullivan went to his son’s school three or four times a week to talk with the principal. According to court papers, officials did nothing.
The Justice Department is citing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which protects people against gender discrimination — in its Motion to Intervene. However, the Obama administration is relying on a “broad reading” of Title IX, arguing that “the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes.” In the Motion, the Justice Department argues that the Mohawk District officials also violated the Equal Protection Clause. On Jan. 7, the Assistant Attorney General authorized the federal government’s invention “by certifying that this is a case of general public importance.” Conservative lawyers are arguing against the Obama administration’s approach, saying that it is “making up a legal violation where there hasn’t been one.”
Under Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has had a dramatically different focus than it did during President Bush’s terms. While the Bush Justice Department was focused on installing political cronies, going after mythical voter fraud cases, and the suppression of minority voters while looking out for the voter disenfranchisement of whites. The Obama Justice Department, by contrast, recently announced that it would also start aggressively going after “banks and mortgage brokers suspected of discriminating against minority applicants in lending.”