Last week, video of a gay teenager who fought back against a school bully went viral. The video on Twitter has gotten over 2.1 million views in the last few days. Jordan Steffy, a junior at LaPorte High School in LaPorte, Indiana posted the video of himself confronting, hitting, and shoving another student who had been cyberbullying him on Snapchat. Steffy told Insider that the bully, who has not been named, “made an anti-gay post with a picture of me on it saying how he hated gays and a bunch of throwing up emojis all over it."
This was not the first time Steffy had been the victim of bullying for his sexual orientation. Steffy has endured homophobic bullying since he came out in seventh grade, from hateful slurs to food thrown at him in the cafeteria. Steffy told Insider that reporting the bullying did not help: "It seemed like I was getting in more trouble for reporting it than I was if I didn't say anything at all . . . It was doing me more harm than it was good."
Steffy and the bully were both suspended for a week for the incident. Steffy’s mother says that she is planning to home school him, according to The Advocate.
You are probably thinking that Steffy should sue the school for allowing this kind of bullying to have gone on for so many years. Indiana has an anti-bullying law, but like 29 other states, it affords LGBTQ youth (and adults) absolutely no protections against discrimination. There is no law permitting Steffy to file suit for the discrimination he has suffered for years at the hands of school bullies and the school officials who have turned a blind eye. State anti-bullying laws provide administrative remedies only, and they lack the financial teeth that anti-discrimination laws do. Without strong anti-discrimination laws, schools have little financial incentive to protect LGBT youth.
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear three cases which will determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination “on the basis of sex” encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity – at least in the workplace. With last year’s replacement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a liberal on issues of sexual orientation, with Brett Kavanaugh, a staunch conservative, the legal community expects that the Court’s ruling will be adverse to LGBT people. But even if the Court were to find that “on the basis of sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity, the extent to which Title VII would protect children in school would remain in question.
A federal law that protects LGBT students from a hostile educational environment is needed to protect vulnerable students from the virulent harassment that Jordan Steffy heroically stood up to. A step in the right direction would be the passage of the Equality Act, proposed legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Title VII. This needed legislation is being blocked by Mitch McConnell and his vow to keep the legislation from being voted on in the Senate.
New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination protects LGBT students against hostile educational environments. If you have a child who has been the victim of bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity, you should contact Michael Poreda, Esq., a lawyer in Somerville, New Jersey who practices education law and is an advocate for LGBT youth. You could be entitled to compensation for having to tolerate anything like what Jordan Steffy did.