One student said she suffered daily verbal and physical harassment at school after classmates found out that she is a lesbian. When on numerous occasions she reported this harassment to school officials their only response, she says, was an occasional verbal reprimand for the harassers. The student dropped out of school and she even reportedly attempted suicide.
Similarly, another student mentioned in the suit reported sustained anti-LGBT bullying that lasted over two years. His school, it is alleged, told him to leave because they said they could not protect him.
Another 14-year old student spoke up this week at the press conference announcing the suit and said, “It got so bad that every day when my bus got to school I thought about hiding under one of the seats so I wouldn’t have to go in to school: so I wouldn’t be called names or pushed around, and so I wouldn’t have to hear the rumors other kids were making up about me.”
Why has this happened? The lawsuit in part blames the district’s policy on excluding talk about LGBTs in the classroom:
The school district’s gag policy, known officially as the “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy,” prohibits staff from offering support to LGBT students or acknowledging the existence of LGBT people. It has played a significant role in encouraging the hostile anti-LGBT climate in the district, by imposing a stigma on LGBT students as pariahs, not fit to be mentioned within the school community—a message that comes across loud and clear both to LGBT students and their harassers. It has also limited the effective responses that teachers can provide when they see anti-LGBT harassment taking place.
The lawsuit asserts that the district’s gag policy and its failure to protect these students from harassment violated these students’ rights under the United States Constitution, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
The SPLC, NCLR, and Faegre & Benson began investigating the district’s policies in 2010 after several LGBT students from the district died by suicide.
For its part, the school district has said it is “disappointed” that the lawsuit is going ahead and that it would have preferred that the NCLR and associated groups had worked with the district to improve its anti-bullying policy. That said, the district reiterated that it fully supports the sexual orientation curriculum policy as it stands.
In addition to this lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department made it known this week that it is investigating the district over complaints of harassment. This follows at least seven young people in the district having taken their own lives over the past two years, with a majority of those deaths attributed, at least in part, to bullying.
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