Ruling In Horrific LGBT Bullying Case Should Be A Wake-Up Call For Congress To Finally Pass SNDA

A 13-year-old boy named Jon Carmichael killed himself during spring break in 2010.

According to a civil rights lawsuit brought by his parents, a few days before Jon killed himself, football players at his middle school in northern Texas had attacked him in the locker room, stripped him nude, tied him up, placed him in a trash can, and called him a "fag," "queer," and "homo," while the whole event was videotaped and later posted on YouTube.

A teacher stood by as the attack occurred and did nothing to stop it. In fact, several teachers at the school had, for months, witnessed Jon being attacked and bullied.

On almost a daily basis, classmates assaulted him in the locker room and forcibly removed his underwear, shoved him in the hallways, pushed him to the ground on the athletic field, flushed his head in the toilet, or stuffed him into a trash can. But no one stopped it because, in the words of one teacher, "Boys will be boys."

You would think that this kind of bullying is illegal and schools have a responsibility to stop it.

Title IX requires that schools protect their students from severe and pervasive harassment by other students. Although that statute only explicitly prohibits bullying based on the sex of the target, numerous courts, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice have all interpreted that protection to extend to students like Jon who are bullied because they don't meet stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. That's why it was so surprising that when Jon's parents asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to decide whether Title IX covers bullying based on sex stereotypes, the court said, in effect, "Ask us again, later."

The court ruled on the narrower grounds that repeatedly removing someone's underwear without his consent "constitutes pervasive harassment of a sexual character" regardless of the attacker's motivation, but the court expressly refused to decide the broader question about whether Title IX covers bullying based on failure to conform to gender stereotypes.

That means that for LGBT kids who attend schools in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi (also in the Fifth Circuit) might still not be protected by Title IX if their schools stand by and watch them be bullied and assaulted, as long as the bullying falls short of grabbing their genitals or forcibly removing their underwear.

The decision is a timely reminder why Congress needs to finally pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act to formally extend explicit protections to LGBT students like those that already exist for harassment based on race, sex, disability, and other characteristics. The legislation currently has the support of more than 220 members of the Senate and House of Representatives. The Obama administration has done an admirable job in using laws currently on the books to provide as much protection to LGBT students as possible. But with courts like the Fifth Circuit still holding back, Congress must act to bring the legal certainty that only explicit protections can provide.

For all the other 13-year-olds like Jon, it's the least that Congress can do.

Learn more about LGBT bullying and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (6)
Read the Terms of Use

Paul in Louisville

Heartbreaking and infuriating.


This story is horrendous. It is senseless because it was allowed to escalate into multiple abusive situations.

The teachers and administration should be sued and decision appealed on the Court's failure to rule on the LGTB discrimination.


I'm so sorry to the family. I understand the pain of this being current military personnel and a rape victim and no one doing anything to hold the people responsible accountable. I will pray that no other children go through this and the violence stops.

family member o...

Congress is too busy glomming onto stupid law suits against the president than they are to stop and actually care about a human being.
I wish John Boehner would drop dead.
Maybe if he's really lucky he'll die of esophageal varices; that's probably how it's going to happen anyway, because he damn sure isn't going to stop drinking to excess.
Killing yourself with alcohol consumption is ONE of the more painful ways to go and if anybody deserves to know what true pain is like, if anyone deserves to know what HE'S put everyone ELSE through, it's definitely John kiss-my-backside Boehner.

President Obama helped find Osama bin Laden. If I have to choose who I'm going to like more, it's going to be him over Boehner every time.

Personally, I don't even think Boehner, Cantor, Bachmann or McConnell are necessarily human.


A terrifying story. I sometimes wonder if the teachers are scared of what would happen if they interfered...


I wonder if one of the teachers names was Mrs. Morrison.
I was bullied the entire way through school, and she used to sit there pretending she didn't freakin' see it happening and was even treacherous to me herself.
I hope she goes to one of Dante's levels of hell, the one where vanity of looks makes you the biggest sh*thead on the planet.

Stay Informed