Originally published: April 14, 2011, 8:21 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2011, 5:02 p.m.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez (right) and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Anne Tompkins at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE — The head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Charlotte-area U.S. attorney met Thursday with students and community leaders to discuss bullying, hate crimes and civil rights issues.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Anne Tompkins met with students at Northwest School of the Arts on Thursday morning. Perez and Tompkins spoke briefly before showing the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s “It Gets Better” video, inspired by columnist Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Campaign.
“I am looking at this room and I see America,” Perez told an audience of students in grades six through 12.
Perez encouraged students to embrace diversity. “What I see here is that you embrace diversity,” Perez said. “We as a nation embrace diversity and that’s why we are such a powerful nation.”
Tompkins also encouraged students to make their schools safer for all.
“Being different is good,” she said. “It makes life better. It makes special.”
Tompkins, a graduate of West Charlotte High School, also identified herself as a lesbian. “I am a gay woman,” she said to students’ applause, “and I am living proof that it does get better.”
Following the It Gets Better video, Perez and Tompkins took questions from students, most concerned with anti-LGBT bullying and what the Justice Department is doing to create safer schools.
“We are doing everything we can to enforce laws that protect you,” Tompkins said.
Last October, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced new interpretations of federal civil rights laws. Some anti-LGBT discrimination, harassment and bullying is now considered a type of sex-based discrimination and falls under federal jurisdiction. Perez told students that such bullying and discrimination is often based on gender roles and stereotypes. Discrimination against LGBT and Muslim students are among his division’s fastest growing.
Immediately following the assembly, Perez met with about a dozen student leaders from the school.
Perez and Tompkins also met with leaders from the local LGBT community. Charlotte Observer writer Franco Ordoñez reported that Perez was scheduled to meet with members of other minority groups, as well.
Jibril Hough of The Islamic Center of Charlotte told Ordoñez that local Muslims have never had meeting with a high ranking official like Perez. He says the meeting with Perez continues an effort to address concerns about civil rights and hate crimes.
“A meeting such as this is going beyond the typical ‘lip service’ that we often get from D.C.” Hough said.
Perez was also slated to meet with representatives from the Latin American Coalition, the Mecklenburg County Bar, Charlotte School of Law and the John S. Leary Association of Black Lawyers.