A Situation No Child Should Face: When Teachers Become Bullies
Imagine going to school and facing bullying every day, taunts like you’re an “it,” or an “in-between freak” or “dyke.” Imagine hearing words like that not just from fellow students but also from teachers and school administrators. That’s what a new SPLC lawsuit claims lesbian teen Destin Holmes faced at school in the Moss Point School District in Mississippi.
Destin Holmes, now 17, says that she just wanted to be herself while attending Magnolia Junior High School. As such, she regularly wore baggy jeans and baseball caps. For this authenticity, she was regularly misgendered by teachers who referred to her as a “he” despite her correcting them, and then an “it” by members of the staff. That’s not to mention the sometimes physical harassment she had to endure from her fellow pupils.
What’s more, an SPLC investigation found that there was evidence Destin had even been denied access to the girls’ restroom and that a teacher refused to let her take part in classroom activities where students were divided by gender because, she said, Destin was “in between.”
The complaint notes that when a suicidal Destin tried to get help, school administrators refused to do anything. In fact, when her father approached the then-principal about the harassment, he was reportedly told “if she’s going to dress like a boy, she’s going to be treated like a boy.” A meeting with the principal in March 2012 also saw him allegedly say “I don’t want a dyke in this school.” This was not the first time the principal had reportedly referred to Destin as a dyke. Shortly after, Destin left Magnolia Junior High School to be home-schooled. Unfortunately, this became too much of a financial burden on her family and Destin returned to the district as a student at the Moss Point High School.
After reviewing Destin’s complaint, the SPLC says it has found evidence that this amounts to a pervasive pattern of harassment against LGBT students that school officials are either failing to act on, or in some cases are even contributing to, anti-LGBT bullying. The SPLC sent a letter to the district in March demanding that the school work with the SPLC to take action.
At the time, the SPLC released the following video chronicling Destin’s story:
The district has unfortunately refused to address the matter and now the SPLC has filed a legal suit in the Southern District of Mississippi Gulfport Division.
The suit claims that the district has violated Destin’s Constitutional rights, including violating the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX of the Education Amendment Act. The suit also claims that beyond Destin’s case, the SPLC has found evidence of discrimination against a number of other LGBT pupils, including an incident where a transgender student was physically attacked and ridiculed by students without appropriate followup from teachers, and where a gay male student was assaulted by students.
The suit names the Moss Point School District, the school board, Superintendent Maggie Griffin, and former principal of Magnolia Junior High School Durand Payton as defendants.
Regarding the suit, Superintendent Griffin and School Board President Clifton Magee have released a statement, saying:
Since this is a matter of litigation, we cannot speak to the specifics of the claims. … Protecting our students from acts of bullying, harassment, intimidation and threats by any individual is our highest priority. The district has in place policies and procedures to ensure that our students are free from discrimination and bullying. We, as most districts across the nation, try to ensure that our students are safe and secure.”
Destin is still a pupil at Moss Point High School. Though reportedly having faced difficulties at first, she now appears to be more positive and enjoying her time at the school.
Sadly, this kind of anti-LGBT bullying among kids and adults has cropped up a number of times this year. Still, it is important to stress that many U.S. schools are taking concrete steps to prevent anti-LGBT harassment and that many schools are going so far as to create LGBT safe spaces and policies that specifically deal with anti-LGBT bullying and that recognize LGBT students’ particular needs.
For kids like Destin, who just want to go to school in an environment where they aren’t going to be harassed for being who they are or victimized by adults who should know better, having strong policy frameworks that support LGBT and questioning kids is vital.
For help and support, you can find out more about how LGBT-affirmative policies can make a difference and what kinds of policies work best over at the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.