Readers may remember the shocking story of Zach Huston, a gay teenager who during class at Unioto High School in Chillicothe last year was beaten as the culmination of anti-gay bullying. A video of the attack went viral on YouTube. School authorities, however, seemed to blame Zach and not his attackers, reportedly asking “What can we do to change you?”
Now, Zach and his mother Rebecca Collins have together with the ACLU released a video discussing the escalating bullying Zach suffered and how the alleged inaction of the administration shocked and upset them.
“Every child deserves a safe learning environment, free from violence and cruelty,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman. “The school had a responsibility to protect Zach, but looked the other way for over a year while he was verbally and physically bullied. Schools must proactively address bullying by engaging with students and teachers on the effects of harmful words and actions, or else risk even greater incidents of violence. This education must start at a young age in order to change the school’s culture, so this behavior is no longer acceptable.”
“This has been an ongoing nightmare for our family. No parent wants to see their child in danger, and it has been a constant fear that Zach or one of our loved ones would be harmed,” said Zach’s mother, Rebecca Collins. “Through Zach’s ordeal, I hope schools recognize they must take reports of bullying seriously and educate others on how it affects families.”
The ACLU of Ohio is now representing Zach’s family and is considering a wide range of legal options to ensure that the school and wider district never again allows this kind of thing to happen to a student. The ACLU, at the time the case first came to light, also sent a letter to school officials in an effort to establish a dialogue before formal legal action is filed.
As the video above highlights, there currently sits in Congress the Student Non Discrimination Act. The Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Col.) and in the Senate by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), would add to existing federal statutes and grant explicit protections against bullying on the grounds of perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
If schools that receive federal funds fail to adequately combat and track incidents of anti-LGBT bullying, or if school administrators are found to have discriminated against LGBT children, then under the Student Non Discrimination Act their federal funding could be cut.
The GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students from across the U.S. found that nine out of ten students experienced harassment at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that two-thirds said they felt unsafe in schools.
LGBT youth are also at an increased rick of suicide-linked mental health issues, many of which are in turn linked to bullying and harassment in their daily lives.
Image taken from YouTube video, no infringement intended.