Administration officials are organizing a coalition of political advocates to push for federal oversight of schoolrooms to protect teens who say they are insulted or injured by their high school peers, often because the teens describe themselves as gay or lesbian.
The federal effort is depicted by officials and sympathetic media as a campaign against “bullying,” but it pushes far beyond the prevention of physical violence, and seeks federal regulation of kids’ statements, online conversations, social arrangements and social “climate.”
“What we’ve tried to do is provide information and tools for parents and schools to push back” against bullying, President Barrack Obama said Sept. 28 in a White House interview with Spanish-language media.
His appointees, however, describe the project in more ambitious terms.
“This president, this attorney general, this secretary of health and human services, and this secretary of education — this federal government, in short — is going to put every tool in its arsenal to bear on this issue because … we cannot allow it to be a rite of passage,” Tom Perez, Obama’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, told a coalition of parents, gay advocacy groups and government officials at a government-funded summit held Sept. 23.
The summit’s goal, according to the Department of Education, “will work towards engaging private and public organizations committed to providing needed tools and resources to ensure the safety of students.” Speakers at the invitation-only summit included Perez, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Conservatives say that the administration is using the threat of bullying to advance its progressive agenda.
“We all oppose bullying in any shape or form,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, a conservative advocacy group. But progressive advocates are exploiting episodes of bullying to push their diversity ideology, which seeks “to promote the embracing and affirmation of homosexuality and other sexual lifestyles,” he said. These advocates want to fragment the family ideal, which has very successfully entwined sex, adults and child-rearing for more than 2,000 years, he said.
Families and communities — not federal lawyers and supposed experts — are best able to govern the constant teenage jostling for popularity and achievement in schools, Prichard said.
Advocates for gays and lesbians say many teens are harassed, intimidated and disadvantaged in schools, and they highlight suicides by gay and lesbian teenagers who have been harassed, taunted and bullied.
Nearly 44 percent of self-identified gay teenagers, and 40 percent of self-identified teen lesbians — who collectively comprise roughly 2 percent of teenagers — said they had been insulted or assaulted in the previous year, according to a 2010 analysis by Dr. Elise Berlan, an academic at Ohio State University. The same study reported that 26 percent of heterosexual teenagers said they have been bullied in the past year.
Officials say the anti-bullying efforts are designed to protect racial, sexual and religious minorities, but their focus is on teenagers who say they’re gays or lesbians.
That’s partly because there’s been a several well-publicized suicides by teenagers who said they were harassed by their peers, sometimes after they revealing themselves as gays or lesbians via Facebook or Youtube.