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Challenges LGBT students experience

Harassment of LGBT students. Early
lawsuits, 1996-2001; Information sources.

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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.

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Other Court Challenges:

The Nabozny case opened the floodgates; it inspired many new court challenges during 1996 and 1997, including:

bullet Illinois: Relying on the Nabozny case, a harassed student won a judgment against their school district.
bullet 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,
bullet 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
bullet 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 incidents, including:

bullet A student taunted him and used a broomstick to force him against lockers. Two teachers were nearby but did nothing.
bullet After he tried to report harassment, a teacher banned him from classed and gave him a failing grade.
bullet One teacher said: "I already have 20 girls in my class. I don't need another."
bullet 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.

bullet 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:

bullet In 1997-MAY, Connecticut became the 6th state to modify its education laws to protect its gay and lesbian students.
bullet 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."
bullet In early 1997, the National School Board Association convention heard their first presentation on anti-gay harassment in the schools.

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Information sources:

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.

bullet The Problem:
bullet 1. Patricia M. Logue, et. al. "Federal Appeals Court Rules for Former Student in Anti-Gay Violence Case" at http://www.youth.org/
bullet 2. "Gay Teen Takes on the Kent (WA) School Board, The Garden Island newspaper, Kaua`i Hawaii, 1997-SEP-10
bullet 3. Michael Gaudreau, "Testimony of Michael Gaudreau at Allen Park High School Board of Education about anti-gay harassment" at: http://www.tri.org/
bullet 4. Anon, "Anti-gay harassment in schools documented", Oasis, 1996-DEC. At: http://www.oasismag.com/
bullet 5. Jeff Walsh, "Profiles in Courage: Jamie Nabozny, 20, of Minneapolis, Minnesota" at: http://www.youth.org/
bullet 6. NewsPlanet Staff, "Gay Youth Wins School Harassment Case", PlanetOut Gay and Lesbian News, 1996-NOV-20. See: http://headlines.yahoo.com/
bullet 7. Gabi Clayton, "Bill's Story" is a story of her son who was subjected to harassment and later committed suicide. See: http://members.tripod.com/
bullet 8. Arkansas family wins historic victory involving anti-gay harassment at high school," at: http://www.youth.org/
bullet 9. "School district agrees to deter harassment...," Washington Blade article at: http://www.youth.org/


bullet Pro-Active Programs:
bullet 10. Brian Weber, School Program Fights Biases - Posters to be Put up Stressing Impropriety of Slurs, Harassment," Rocky Mountain News, Denver, CO, 1995-NOV-26. See: http://www.fc.net/
bullet 11. "Creating Safe Schools for Lesbian and Gay Students: A resource guide for school staff" is at: http://members.tripod.com/
bullet 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/
bullet 13. Safe Schools Anti-Violence Documentation Project, Third Annual Report", (Washington State) 1996-Fall. See: http://members.tripod.com/


bullet Groups for Change:
bullet 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/
bullet 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/


bullet Youth Support Groups:
bullet 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/
bullet 17. "Out Proud" is the US National coalition for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, Their home page is at: http://www.cyberspaces.com/
bullet 18. The Massachusetts Department of Education, "Gay-Straight Alliances: A Student Guide". Describes how to start a gay-straight alliance in a school. See: http://www2.pcix.com/
bullet 19. Gay Lesbian & Straight Educational Network at: http://www.glsen.org/ The results of their 1999 survey are at: http://www.glsen.org/ 

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Copyright © 1999, 2001, & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2010-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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