Harassment of LGBT students. Early
lawsuits, 1996-2001; Information sources.
Pioneer Law Suit in Ashland WI:
Jamie Nabozny is a gay youth who realized his sexual orientation when he was in the 7th
grade. In 1996, at age 21, he sued his school district in Ashland, WI. He had survived
years of taunts and threats from homophobic students. The school administrators gave
essentially no support. They told him and his parents that he had to learn to expect abuse
because he is gay. The situation predictably degenerated into violence. He was forced to
take part in a simulated rape; he was urinated upon; he was kicked so many times that he
had to undergo abdominal surgery. Rather than tackle the underlying problem of homophobia
in the schools, the administration tried to isolate him from his fellow students. They
placed him in a special-ed class; they made him travel to school on a bus with elementary
school students so that his contemporaries could not attack him. Nabozny said: "Instead
of teaching the value of respect for others, the school taught that if you are different
you are the problem, and you are the one that has to be separated out and hidden." Part way through his eleventh year, he quit high school. His guidance counselor is quoted
as saying: "I've tried to help you through this whole thing and nobody's willing
to do anything." He later obtained his GED.
He won the lawsuit. Jurors agreed that 3 school officials "intentionally
discriminated" against Nabozny and failed in their responsibility to protect him.
By doing so, they violated his constitutional guarantee of equal protection. He won a
$900,000 settlement. This is believed to be the first case in the U.S. in which school
administrators were held liable for failing to deal constructively with anti-gay hatred.
David Buckel of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said "The
Nabozny case sent a ringing message to school districts throughout the country that
henceforth, harassment of lesbian and gay teens in schools would be taken seriously." It was more than a ringing message; it was a massive shudder of fear felt in every school
board in the US. No board can easily handle a 1 million-dollar judgment.
Other Court Challenges:
The Nabozny case opened the floodgates; it inspired many new court challenges during 1996 and 1997, including:
Illinois: Relying on the Nabozny case, a harassed student won a judgment against their
California: A 12 year old male student and his mother sued a school in San Francisco for
failure to protect him from verbal and physical abuse,
Arkansas: A gay student was severely beaten by fellow students. This has prompted a
discrimination complaint under Title IX. This is the federal legislation that prohibits
sexual discrimination and harassment in schools. 8,9
Washington: Mark Iverson, 18, sued the Kent school district. He is a recent graduate
and suffered harassment since junior high school because he is gay. The lawsuit claims
that they failed to enforce their anti-harassment policies and thus violated Iverson's
civil rights to equal protection under the law. The harassment followed a familiar
pattern. "At first, it just started with name-calling and people talking," Iverson said. "But then it was the physical stuff." He cites many
A student taunted him and used a broomstick to force him against lockers. Two teachers
were nearby but did nothing.
After he tried to report harassment, a teacher banned him from classed and gave him a
One teacher said: "I already have 20 girls in my class. I don't need
A group of 8 students, feeling secure at the lack of interest by the authorities, beat
him up while 30 students watched.
Iverson suffered from stress related stomach aches, headaches and depression; he
eventually considered suicide.
Washington DC: In 1997-MAR, the US Department of Education issued examples of anti-gay
harassment that are prohibited under Title IX. Schools that ignore their responsibilities
to protect students from harassment are liable to loss in federal funds.
There are some encouraging signs of improvement:
In 1997-MAY, Connecticut became the 6th state to modify its education laws to protect
its gay and lesbian students.
Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers Network in New York NY commented: "We've been getting a lot more cooperation from
administrators. Administrators who thought they could brush this issue aside are getting a
lot more nervous."
In early 1997, the National School Board Association convention heard their first
presentation on anti-gay harassment in the schools.
The following information sources were used during them mid to late 1990s to create the above essay. Due to attrition, few are still online today.
1. Patricia M. Logue, et. al. "Federal Appeals Court Rules for Former Student in
Anti-Gay Violence Case" at http://www.youth.org/
2. "Gay Teen Takes on the Kent (WA) School Board, The Garden Island
newspaper, Kaua`i Hawaii, 1997-SEP-10
3. Michael Gaudreau, "Testimony of Michael Gaudreau at Allen Park High School
Board of Education about anti-gay harassment" at: http://www.tri.org/
12. "School Shouldn't Hurt: Lifting the Burden from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and
transgender Youth" is a report of the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender Youth, 1966-MAR. See: http://members.tripod.com/
14. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is an American "national
organization that brings together teachers, parents, students, and concerned citizens to
work together to end homophobia in our schools. Over a third of GLSEN members are non-gay,
and an equal number work outside of schools." Their home page is at: http://www.glstn.org/
15. Public Education Regarding Sexual Orientation Nationally (P.E.R.S.O.N.) is "an
informal, national network of organizations and individuals working to ensure that fair,
accurate, and unbiased information regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
and about the nature and diversity of sexual orientation is presented to America's youth
as part of public school education." Their home page is at: http://www.youth.org/
Youth Support Groups:
16. The Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) has an index of links to
gay and lesbian resources, primarily for youth. See: http://www.bagly.org/