LEXINGTON, Ky. - It’s been 49 years since Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” yet a top civil rights official says he’s amazed at some of the discrimination and harassment that continues across the country.
Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice spoke to high school freshmen in Lexington Wednesday about bullying.
He cited several examples where victims were targeted because of their race or religion, and a case pending in Kentucky that alleges two people severely beat another man because he is gay. Perez says intolerance is often learned at a young age.
“I’m getting sick and tired of prosecuting teenagers who’ve done horrific acts. I’m getting sick and tired of the fact – and it’s an all too frequent fact – that yesterday’s bullies became today’s civil rights defendants. I don’t want that to happen anymore.”
Perez told students that stopping bullying means being open to diversity and alerting parents and teachers when something’s wrong. He also says school administrators must be ready to implement policies that protect students regardless of their background or personal characteristics.
Fayette County Public Schools recently expanded its anti-discrimination policy to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
Earlier this year, however, a state legislative committee failed to pass an anti-bullying measure that would prohibit harassment in schools based on a variety of factors, including a student’s sexual orientation.