On Monday, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Rush Holt, both of New Jersey, re-introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (S. 216 in the Senate and H.R. 482 in the House of Representatives), legislation that would require colleges and universities receiving federal aid to prohibit harassment based on certain personal characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
FIRE takes no position on what should be explicitly listed as protected classes under federal anti-discrimination laws. Nevertheless, we do have some concerns about these bills, assuming they are the same as prior versions (the text of the newly introduced bills are not yet publicly available, so we have not been able to review them).
Yesterday, in one of America’s leading LGBTQ publications, LGBTQ Nation, I was given the opportunity to explain FIRE’s concerns regarding the legislation:
“Policy makers and public university administrators have a moral and legal obligation to make sure that the definitions of harassment and bullying written into law and policy properly recognize both the need to provide safe learning environments for all and the need to comply with First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech,” Cohen (sic) said. “These two goals do not need to conflict.”
Cohn noted that many courts have already interpreted Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, to include a prohibition on harassment on the basis of the target’s non-conformance with gender stereotyping.
Be sure to check out the full LGBTQ Nation piece. For a more detailed analysis of FIRE’s concerns regarding the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, check out Will Creeley’s 2011 op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education.