Well, well, well. It looks like the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education has sent a “Dear Colleague Letter” to public schools and post-secondary institutions.
Yippie, well, sort of.
But take a hard look at what’s not covered—yup, sexual orientation and gender identity. Queer kids are protected under laws banning sexual and gender harassment, but not anti-queer bullying per se. Consequently, this is just a clarification, no real news. Gee thanks.
Furthermore, while the Department of Education is sponsoring a conference in January on bullying, it’s pretty non-specific. So, as with DADT and DOMA, the queers get thrown under the policy bus, once again.
Methinks we are witnessing a classic case of “symbolic politics” (see Murray Edelman’s classic work, “The Symbolic Uses of Politics” ). We’re going to get lots of sympathetic noises from the Obama administration about the “poor tortured until death queer kids,” but we’re not going to get anything of any substance. Furthermore, by “de-queering” the issue of adolescent bullying, the Obama administration gets to have its rhetorical cake and eat it as well. It can appear to be caring (a conference on bullying!), but not offer anything of any substance that will DIRECTLY help queer kids.
Case in point: The Obama Administration actually held a “roll out” with the queer press to announce this bit of symbolic queer political drama. When queried by a reporter whether the Obama administration supported the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), both of which are stalled in Congress, OCR official Ali responded, “We certainly support the goals of both Polis’s bill [the Student Non-Discrimination Act] and the bill on safe and healthy schools.”
So, the Obama administration is “Supporting goals,” not the tangible legislation that would realize those goals. Ooooooo! That’s really effective way to institute change. Yup, there’s your fierce urgency of now queer kids.